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Description:

The wonderful hobby of HAM Radio can be daunting. Using low power with little experience is challenging but can be very rewarding. Every week I look at a different aspect of the hobby, how you might fit in and get the very best from HAM Radio.

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Podcast Episode's:
Welcome
What use is an F-call? This podcast started life in 2011 when I was asked to record a story I shared during the production of the weekly amateur radio news in Western Australia. I'd been a licensed radio amateur, or ham, for a few months and found myself surrounded by people who perceived the basic Australian foundation amateur licence wasn't worth anything. What use is an F-call? is my response to that sentiment. It's produced weekly. In 2015 after long deliberation it was renamed to Foundations of Amateur Radio so people outside Australia might also enjoy the experience. Although most of the items stand alone, I'd recommend that you start at the beginning in 2011 and listen in sequence. Enjoy. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

L.A.S. - Lead Arse Syndrome
What use is an F-call? It seems that there is a disease within the amateur radio community. It's spreading and seems to be contagious. There doesn't seem to be a cure and it seems to be pretty virulent. Symptoms include listlessness, deafness, stubbornness and apathy. Community members have aptly named it as L.A.S. or Lead Arse Syndrome. I receive a regular stream of emails and phone calls from fellow amateurs who share with me their latest idea or plan for an activity in the hobby. It's often a group activity, a plan to do something with the wider community, or a group of people with a common interest. It might be an outing, a meeting, a build-day, an activation, a web-site or some or other thing. The conversation often includes the question: "Do you think it's a good idea?" Often I'll say: "Absolutely, great, wonderful." Sometimes I'll suggest alternatives or point at an existing activity that is already underway. After that the response from the other person is often: "Well, I'll leave it with you." Fortunately I'm made of sterner stuff, having only a few other commitments in this community and I'll often suggest that they take on the project and I'll do whatever I can to support them. I can almost guarantee that's the very last I hear of the activity. So, what is it that stops people from making their idea into reality? Are they dense, lazy or is their idea wrong? No. It's that they lack the confidence to stick their neck out and do something, anything. You might wonder what this has to do with L.A.S. or Lead Arse Syndrome. It's simple. The rest of the community doesn't particularly care one way or the other. They might respond or not, often not; commit to something, or they might not, they might say they're coming, but don't show, they might start an activity but never finish it, they might participate for an hour during a 24 hour contest, but there is no commitment. I know, I should be grateful that they spend the hour, or tell me that their pet parrot died and they cannot attend. But frankly, I'm not. I think that this lack of participation, lack of engagement, lack of commitment is embarrassing. It's not community minded, it's not encouraging to new entrants and it sets a very bad example to the community. I understand that circumstances change and that people have commitments outside the hobby. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about an advanced level of apathy that infuses others and has them give up on their idea before they begin. I'd rather be surrounded by those who think that this is a fun hobby with stuff to learn, people to meet, things to do and places to go. Of course, if you're one of the few with an idea, then I salute you. Hold your head high, scream your idea from the rooftops, share it with the active community and get on with it. Unfortunately there is one of me and many of you. I'm happy to be your sounding board, but I've not yet figured out how to have more than 24 hours in a day. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

OQRS
What use is an F-call? When you make contacts around the world with other amateurs the traditional way of confirming a contact is with a QSL card. It's a postcard-like affair that has the details of the station, and if all is well, the details of the contact between their station and yours. Traditionally if you want a QSL card, you'd go to your local post office and buy an International Reply-paid Coupon or IRC, but increasingly this has become more and more difficult, to the point where many post offices have no idea what you're talking about and will deny any existence of an IRC. Anyway, if you did manage to secure an IRC, you'd put your card and an IRC in an envelope and send it off to the remote station and hope that they'd send you back a card using the IRC as a way to pay for their stamp. In effect you're using the postal service to buy stamps for the other station. There is another hybrid version of confirming a contact using QSL cards, the Online QSL Request Service or OQRS. It's an online mechanism where instead of sending an IRC in an envelope and dealing with the post office, you send cold hard cash - via payment, like PayPal - to the other station and they send you a card, either in the mail, or via the QSL bureau. Note that often the QSL bureau option is free. You use OQRS to request the card, but the delivery is free, so no cash involved. I should mention that online-only versions of QSL-cards have also sprung up left right and centre. The two most trusted ones are Logbook Of The World, also knows as LOTW and eQSL. Both these services allow you to upload your contact log and when the other station does that as well, matching log entries result in a confirmed contact. If you're a fiend for pretty QSL cards, you don't need to compromise, online, offline or in-between. You can still get your contact confirmed. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

Retaining two letter callsigns is rubbish.
What use is an F-call? Recently I witnessed a discussion about callsigns. As you know, your amateur callsign is akin to your personal on-air identity. It's the thing that distinguishes your station from all the other stations on the globe. My callsign was assigned to me randomly, it was intended as a temporary stepping stone to a higher license, but over time I was distracted by all the things I could do as a Foundation Class amateur and my callsign now feels like "me". The discussion was about the re-issuing of callsigns. In Australia, if you don't renew your callsign, after a period of time, it becomes available to be re-issued to another amateur. This allows people to obtain that one particular call that they feel represents them. Some amateurs have the same callsign for many years. It's their identity, it's the thing they used in contests, camp-outs, chats and the rest of their amateur life. When an active, well respected amateur relinquishes their call, often when they become a silent key, there are amateurs who feel that this call should not be re-issued. The practice is different across the globe. In some countries, a callsign is for life, though it's unclear what happens when an amateur becomes silent. Likely there are places where the call becomes available, and in other places it doesn't. In Australia we have calls that come with two letters, VK6YS, Wally, or VK6AS, Andrew are examples of that. In total there are 26 times 26 different options, that is, 676 different two letter callsigns per call area. If we were to lock up each deserving two-letter callsign, we'd run out of two letter calls. While we're chopping down this idea, how would we decide who is deserving and what criteria would we use? If we ever get a single letter callsign, there would be 26 different callsigns. We'd run out even faster. There was much written about retaining and protecting two letter callsigns, but I'm sure I've shown that this is not a sustainable idea. I've seen, heard and read much about amateur radio since I joined the community. There is much rubbish among the gems. Retaining two-letter callsigns for ever is an example of rubbish. I wish those amateurs who want to protect their hobby went back to inventing, back to innovating, back to trying, testing, playing and having fun, rather than attempting to retain the racist, sexist, 1950's that they seem to think represents the pinnacle of Amateur Radio. And if you want to honour a callsign for a mate, then record their history, tell their stories, share their exploits, emulate their kindness and encouragement. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

Stop whining and get with the program...
What use is an F-call? We are part of an amazing hobby where inventiveness, inquiry and exploration is part and parcel of the thing we do. It's that spirit that got me interested in this hobby and fortunately I have enough friends in the hobby who share that view. Unfortunately, this hobby seems to also attract a group of nay-sayers, people who are always denigrating others, starting from the perspective of saying No, before asking How? Let's call them the whingers. These are the ones who complain about the ineffectiveness of the WIA, the ones who complain that when the license fee goes down, jump up and down for a refund of their five year payment which they made to save money in case the fees went up. These are the ones who want to quarantine callsigns for "deserving amateurs" but have several and want to have a particular callsign and can't wait until the holder becomes a silent key. The ones who say that F-calls should not be allowed on air, or should have their license expired automatically after 12 months because they must upgrade, the ones who tell people off on air, complain about how a contest is run, or want to continue to submit their contest logs on paper. I could go on, but it's depressing and this is a fun hobby. To all those whingers I say, get real. Stand up, be an amateur and get with the times. It used to be that you were in the forefront of exploration, but now you're just a whinging, whining old man. Join in or get out. To the rest of us, I encourage you to call out these whiners and point out to them that their complaints are misguided at best and downright destructive and malicious at worst. This is a hobby. You're supposed to have fun, laugh, make merry, enjoy the community, learn, explore, and lead the way. Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

Stop and enjoy the electrons along the way...
What use is an F-call? I'm a child of my time and my perspective is the result of input from fellow amateurs. I'm often in the group of amateurs who would rather buy than build, rather get something done, than do it yourself. The black box brigade if you like. The same is true for the antennas I use. I've been struggling with some verticals on the back of my car for months. I've got it working, mostly, but it was a lot of stuffing around. In the end, I added a black box, in the form of a tuner to make it work, sort of. The radio clubs I associate with have towers and multi-element beams, there are antenna farms, rotators, switch boxes, amplifiers and the like, all far removed from a simple set-up. Most of these are purchased and put together, rather than designed and built. During the week I spent some time with the other side of radio. A simple fishing pole with a string of wire, sitting on a groin pointed into the ocean, picking off signals left and right. Until now I've been approaching this along the lines of "get the antenna that works, make contacts, rinse and repeat". Sitting on the groin in the warm sun it occurred to me that there is nothing wrong with that idea, but that I was missing out on the journey along the way. I've been looking at my antenna problem as an annoyance, preventing me from getting on air, and while it did annoy me, it also taught me lots about vertical antenna design, about inductance, reactance, impedance and more. I like shiny new things, radios, computers, antennas and all the rest of it, but I've come to the realisation that there can also be a journey along the way. I'm not sure it's smelling roses, let's call it, enjoy the electrons. It remains to be seen if that translates into me making wacky antenna designs or not, but one thing I learned is not to be afraid of trying anymore. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

How to roll up coax and rope?
What use is an F-call? When you start in Amateur Radio you'll come across the problem of rolling up coax and rope. If it goes the way it went for me, you'll be doing what you always did, that is, winding up the coax on your arm until someone stops you and tells you that you're doing it wrong. Then you're likely to be told about rolling out the coax into a straight line and when you want to take it home after a field-day, you'll either be rolling it onto a roll, or physically hand-over-hand be rolling the coax into a circle. This is a regular pain in the Alpha. I managed to seek some advice from people who do this for a living. Film crews and audio technicians have to roll up cable on a regular basis and they don't do anything like I was told. Head on over to YouTube and search for "How to Properly Roll Cable". You'll come across a 1 minute 4 second video by Randy Coppinger. He shows you the Over-Under technique and once you've mastered that you'll never twist coax again and your coax won't get damaged when you unroll it. You can use the same technique for power leads, for garden hoses and in some cases rope. For many of the thin ropes you might use as guy wires for temporary antennas you might want to look for a butterfly coil. There are lots of videos around, but the one that seems to explain it simply is the one by Joe Kuster, "How to Butterfly Coil a Slackline or Rope". These two techniques, Over-Under and Butterfly Coil will make your coax and rope last much longer and you'll spend many hours less untangling the mess or replacing kinked coax. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

The Community Spirit of Amateur Radio
What use is an F-call? I've talked in the past about the community spirit that is embodied by Amateur Radio. Yes, I know there are several not very nice people around, some even brag about it, but by enlarge, that's absolutely not the case. I had the opportunity to use an antenna from a friend over a long weekend recently. He's building a tower at his QTH and had a spare Buddipole available that he handed to me while I was having problems getting my mobile verticals to work. It made me think about all the other things that I've been able to do thanks to friends I've made in Amateur Radio. One went on holidays for several months and wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable warming his antennas in his absence. Another brought along his multi-band yagi and helped me configure my hand-held for satellite operation. Another helped set-up contacts with the International Space Station early on in my Amateur career. I've had countless antennas given to me and loaned to me. I've used people's stations and portable gear. Had use of their camping equipment, generators, tents, beds, contesting hardware, computers, radios and tools. I've been able to bring my antennas to friends and test them using their equipment, had advice and assistance when building my station, had replacement bits shipped to me overnight and the list just goes on. I hope that I've been able to return the favour to all those amateurs who've helped me get to where I am and I hope I'll continue to be able to help out as this wonderful hobby evolves. Every now and then something happens that makes you remember all those amazing things. I hope your friends are as helpful as the ones I've found. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

Learn from every outing!
What use is an F-call? Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a contest that was specifically set-up for QRP. That is, 5 Watts or less. There was an hour for digital modes, including Morse, but I don't yet speak that, so I sat tight for the second hour, for phone. This particular contest was a single band only contest, 80m. When I planned for the contest, I set my watch wrong by an hour, so I almost didn't make it, but fortunately my XYL queried my delayed departure and I was out the door in the nick of time. I headed out to the beach, only to be confronted with S8 noise from the local housing estate, so I retreated rapidly back into the bush and found myself a lovely little nook where I could park the car without causing any disruption and start twiddling the dial. I immediately learned that my vertical was very, very narrow in bandwidth, that is, there was a limited range of frequencies I could use which curtailed the activities somewhat. Undeterred I hunted up and down the workable range, heard lots of stations and even made one contact. I almost tickled the eardrum of a station on the other side of the country, but he was being bombarded by other noise makers, so that didn't eventuate. I got my ear drums belted by some locals who hadn't heard that it was a QRP contest, but all in all, there was lots of fun to be had. My take home was that I should prepare better. I should have scouted a location earlier, used a more suitable antenna and considered if the locals would be pulling out of a side-road, shining their headlights on me parked in the bush on a continuous rotation. The contest was easy to do, reminded me that prior planning prevents piss poor performance and that I should really think about a better way to log contacts on the road in a contest situation. So, every outing is a learning opportunity. If you don't think back about the experience, how do you go about learning from it? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

Super Check Partial
What use is an F-call? If you're into contesting, you're likely to have heard of a thing called the Super Check Partial list and if you haven't then you should. It's a simple thing, maintained by Stu, K6TU, it contains a rolling list of the callsigns of all the stations that appeared in a minimum of 6 contest logs as a worked station over the past two years. This means several things. First of all, it means that you need to make contacts. Then each of your contacts needs to submit their log and it has to happen on a regular basis. If all that works, you end up with a text file that has some 43000 callsigns in it. This is a useful tool if you have logging software that can use the list to do partial matches on callsigns. If your callsign is only partially heard, lets say the other station only hears the LAB out of the whole call, VK6FLAB, it might return two or three hits and that might be enough to narrow down your whole callsign. So, instead of the backwards and forwards of exchanging letters, the other station might be able to give you a contest number in one hit. If you're into contesting, that's a big deal. But it's not just for contesting. If you're into DXing, it might also help you, since the Super Check Partial list is commonly used in day to day DX operation, so you might find yourself with a brand new country on your DXCC because you're actively contesting, making contacts and appearing in other people's logs. Now for the catch. This only works if you actually submit your log to Stu, so every time you do a contest, take an extra moment to also submit your log to the Super Check Partial robot lovingly processing your logfile via email. The address is logs@supercheckpartial.com Stu mentions that VK and ZL are severely under represented, so put your log into the system and reap the rewards. Super Check Partial, a free service by another volunteer radio amateur like you. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

Your local repeater is like magic...
What use is an F-call? If you're new to Amateur Radio like I am, it's easy to turn on your radio, set it up to key your local repeater and call CQ. After the first time it's a trivial matter that you might take for granted. The repeater just sits there on frequency, making communication possible between you and the rest of the Amateur Community. In many ways it's like turning on your mobile phone and dialling a number and talking to someone. When people ask me what the difference is between Amateur Radio and Community Radio, I often jest that in Community Radio you come into the studio, sit behind the microphone, press the red button and talk. Amateur Radio is exactly the same, but you also need to bring the red button. Repeaters are like that. Unless you've been personally involved, it's just a case of pressing the button. Of course that's not actually what happens. Often a group gets together, spit-balling ideas, coming up with a plan, finding money, equipment, support and the like. Then there is the logistics of obtaining a mast or using an existing one, finding bricks, concrete, roofing, batteries, solar panels, radios, antennas, cavities, coax, connectors, a license, perhaps an internet connection, getting all this to site, having helpers and resources to build the repeater hut, cranes, bob-cats, concrete mixers, terminating the coax, erecting the mast, installing guy wires, running coax up the mast, attaching antennas, tuning the thing, testing it, programming the controller, programming the radio, etc. etc. The list just gets longer and longer the more you think about. And, this is done by people like you. People who gave of their free time, who saw a need and using their collective skills and effort made it possible for you to key up your local repeater. Of course, then there's the linking of repeaters, internet connectivity, news relays, time-outs, DTMF controllers, lightning strikes, insect infestations, thieves and vandals. It never ends. So, when you next key up your repeater, think about that. And when there's a busy-bee in your local area, consider sharing some of your resources. I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

How do you get gain if you don't change power?
What use is an F-call? Recently I talked about a digital mode that had the ability to give you an estimated gain of 13dB over Analogue FM. It's the equivalent of gaining more than 2 S-points or like turning up your transmitter power from 10 Watts to 200 Watts. Of course, the receiver at the other end doesn't all of a sudden see their S-meter go up and neither does the power draw from your transmitter spike. The actual transmitted power is still the same and the actual received power is also the same. What's going on for this magic to happen? If you've ever listened to Morse code, not to understand it, I'm not there yet either, but just to hear it, you'll notice that you can detect individual dits and dahs at a very low signal level, much lower than it would be possible to hear an SSB signal in the same environment. The reason that happens is because your ear only needs to detect the presence or absence of a tone. Once you can hear the tone, you can work out how long each tone is and then your brain can decode a dit or a dah. Do that enough and you can decode a letter, then a word, then a sentence. So, under Morse conditions there are two basic variables, a tone or not and the length of that tone. If you had a great filter you could make it possible to filter out all but the wanted signal, making it possible to hear even weaker signals. What we're really talking about here is something called a signal to noise ratio. That is, the difference between the background noise, coming from the atmosphere, the neighbours and the radio itself, and the signal, or the Morse code you're trying to detect. The simpler the signal, the easier it is to hear. Of course there are limitations. You can only key so fast, your radio can only key on and off so fast, etc. What if you could key your radio differently? What if you used multiple tones, could you get the same effect? If you look at JT65, a weak signal digital mode, originally designed to do Earth-Moon-Earth communications, but now widely in use on HF, it does exactly that. Instead of on and off, it uses 65 tones to encode information. It uses a whole lot of mathematics, error correction and the like to ensure that each of these tones is decoded correctly and the message is either conveyed entirely, or ignored. Doing this allows JT65 to work in an environment where the noise is higher than the signal. And get this, the performance is entirely dependent on the software decoder in the receiver. What that means is that as we figure out how to improve software signal processing, the performance of JT65 will get better. The rabbit hole goes deep when you start digging and I can assure you, this just scratches the surface. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

Planning for operating portable
What use is an F-call? Operating from your shack is a different experience from operating in another station. It's a completely different experience again if you operate your station portable. At first glance, what's the problem, you pack your radio into a bag, travel to the destination and start operating. If you spend a little more time, you'll soon realise that you'll need to take many other variables into consideration. Things like power, coax, structures for your antenna, antennas, operating position and the like. Let's start with power. Do you have access to mains power where you'll be operating, or will you need to bring a generator, or do you have batteries? If you have batteries, how will you charge them? Are the batteries going to last for the whole operation? How do you know? Is any of the power system going to generate noise on HF? Did you actually test it? What are you going to do about grounding, what about fuel, fire safety, fuses, etc.? I could spend the next 40 minutes going through a list with caveats, gotchas and lessons learned, but ultimately, this needs to be your experience, so, before you go portable, sit down at your current station, happy and dry, and have a look around at all the things that go into the station running smoothly. Now imagine sitting on a desert island and getting your signal out. Make a list, in addition to recording what you're bringing, if there are more than one of you going on the outing, who's bringing it? Also include where an item currently is, include what its status is, for example, does it need a spare battery, or recharging, or repairing. I've now been portable more times than I can count and while it gets easier with time, I can guarantee you that I'll be sitting at my station, looking around for a thing that I forgot. Hopefully it won't be mission critical. Before I forget, resist the urge to bring your whole shack. The car isn't big enough. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

CODEC2 - 13dB gain, what does it mean?
What use is an F-call? Recently I spoke about digital voice communications. I made mention of the CODEC2 project being developed by Dave Rowe, VK5DGR. I also made reference of the kinds of things that digital voice improves, battery life, channel separation and bandwidth. One of the things I didn't mention, mainly because I still had to learn what it meant, is that CODEC2 has an estimated 13dB gain over Analogue FM. To explain what that actually means, you might recall that an S-point is 6dB, that means that if you use CODEC2, you gain more than two S-points, that's a little like turning up the transmitter power from 10 Watts to 200 Watts. If you look at it another way, if you have a Yagi and you install the same Yagi next to it, and connect it up properly, you've doubled the power and gained 3dB. If you do that again, you have 4 antennas and 6dB, if you do it again, you have 8 antennas and 9dB, again, 16 antennas or 12dB gain. So, the performance that we're talking about is something that you can either visualise as turning up the power from 10 Watts to 200 Watts, or using an antenna array with 16 antennas. So what is this magic thing called CODEC2? Well, as I said previously, a CODEC is a piece of software that encodes and decodes stuff. An example that you might be more familiar with is an MP3 file. You open your sound file, and save it as an MP3. The new file is much smaller but it retains most of the fidelity of the original when you play it back. The same is true for other things in use. Your mobile phone uses a GSM CODEC to make your voice travel across the airwaves as bits, rather than raw audio, like the old analogue phones we used to have. The aim of all of this is to reduce data use, to increase availability of channels and to deal with error correction. CODEC2 does all that, for us, here, in Amateur Radio Land, and of course, it can also be used in the rest of the world, for example for mobile phone communications, making it possible to use less power to transmit the same signal and thus use less battery, making your phone last longer. I'm looking forward to a CODEC2 mode on my radio to go with the AM, FM and SSB modes already there. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

Share your radio skills with non-amateurs
What use is an F-call? During the week I had the opportunity to hear several people use a radio in day-to-day communications. In this particular instance it was a water taxi speaking to their base. They were using their own frequency and essentially used it to coordinate their activities across their coverage area. Listening with an Amateur ear, if there is such a thing, I noticed that there was a lot of back-and-forth, missed communications and misunderstandings. We take for granted, once we've learned, that there is a sequence in successful radio communications. Consistency, brevity, simple vocabulary, microphone handling, antenna placement, hand-held use and the like. It's not the first time I've noticed that. I wondered if there was a way that we as amateurs can actually extend our wings beyond our hobby and share some procedural skills that we almost take for granted. We often lament that Amateur Radio is declining in it's scope, size and community involvement. Perhaps radio skills are something that we might share around. Wouldn't it be great if we could share our airwaves with others who also know how to communicate on air? I know I'll be monitoring some commercial frequencies from now on to see if there are things that I could do as an Amateur to help make radio communications more reliable and less stressful for the various users of the radio spectrum. Perhaps it could be a new activity to add to the wide range that Amateur Radio represents. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3

A rotator on 4 wheels...
What use is an F-call? As you might recall, I've been struggling to get an antenna installed on my car. It's been a process that started seven months ago, resulted in the purchase of four single band antennas and finally the purchase of an antenna tuner. I could spend hours discussing the things that were recommended, tried and tested, but I won't. It's a sorry tale that I'll share with you over a beer or six one day. On the first day that everything "worked", and I use the term loosely, since it's not been long enough yet to compare the performance of the antennas to my squid-pole solution and other antennas I've used over the years; on that first day I spoke to about six different stations scattered around me, at varying distance, from less than 5km away to 700km away. During that time I was parked up in front of a friends house and after a contact we'd position the car in a different direction to see what the impact of that change might be. Since this was my first contact with this setup, we kept the movement to the four directions of the compass, North, East, South and West. Generally speaking, there was a difference for some contacts, depending on which way the car was pointing. The difference could be as much as two S-points, that's 12dB difference, which is a big deal. You might recall that this is similar to the difference between an F-call using 10 Watts and a Standard Call using 100 Watts. Without actually measuring, since this was a rough-and-ready check, my car, with the antenna mounted on the boot has a better performance when the nose of the car is pointing at the remote station. Incidentally, the side and the rear seem to perform similarly, that is, there is no particular difference if the station is off the side or the rear. As I said, this is a rough-and-ready check. I'm going to do the same test several more times, and with the cooperation of a friendly remote station, hopefully add some data points between the four directions of the wind, because it's likely that there are weird artifacts that distort the radiation pattern and it might just be that if you point the car to the north-east, you get another s-point, thanks to the vagaries of the build of my particular car. In the end, I plan to log my direction, the S-point reading and with that I'll be able to draw the radiation pattern that my car represents and in turn I'll be able to use that to figure out which way to point when I'm working the grey-line or when I absolutely have to make a contact with a rare DX station. A mobile rotator on four wheels. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio is about communication as much as anything else. The whole idea is to get a message from one place to another. This hobby attracts people from all walks of life, people who are physicists, truck drivers, pastry chefs, accountants and dentists and everything else under the sun. One thing is common among us is, we're all Hams. It's not unusual to see people from completely different walks of life bond over a beer and a soldering iron. With the recipe set, you'd imagine that while people have different outlooks, they'd come back to the single thing that they love, radio. Now that I've been an amateur for a while, the cracks in this potentially idyllic view are beginning to appear. There is bickering, abuse, insults and confrontation. We pitch people against each other, state against state, club against club, brand against brand, license against license, achievement against achievement. While humankind is a warmongering species, I am saddened that this is carried on within our small community. We have the potential to be a "League of Extraordinary Gentleman" and my apologies to the females among us, but instead we're a "Rabble of noisy, angry men". Why is it that when a fellow amateur reveals that they don't know something, they are jumped on, rather than supported and educated? Why is it that we work as adversaries, rather than a cooperative? Why is it that we don't rise above the noise and have fun, laugh, enjoy our hobby and make friends. Why are we not civil to each other when things go wrong or mistakes are made? The original Amateur Code written by Paul W9EEA back in 1928 still applies today: The Radio Amateur is CONSIDERATE...never knowingly operates in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others. LOYAL...offers loyalty, encouragement and support to other amateurs [..] PROGRESSIVE...with knowledge abreast of science, a well-built and efficient station and operation above reproach. FRIENDLY...slow and patient operating when requested; friendly advice and counsel to the beginner; kindly assistance, cooperation and consideration for the interests of others. These are the hallmarks of the amateur spirit. BALANCED...radio is an avocation, never interfering with duties owed to family, job, school or community. PATRIOTIC...station and skill always ready for service to country and community. So, are you an Amateur or not? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Self policing license conditions
What use is an F-call? Over the years that I've been an amateur I've spent many hours discussing the ins- and outs of being an amateur. I've talked about what you're allowed to do, where the LCD falls short, what things you can build, what activities you can participate in and where to find and learn more about this wonderful hobby called Amateur Radio. I've received emails from many different people, amateurs and non-amateurs alike, each sharing with me their take on what excites them, what mistakes I made, or what things I should investigate next. An increasing theme over the past few years is that I should admonish amateurs for their misbehavior, that I should be telling people off for doing things that fall outside their license condition. A recurring theme is the idea that there are F-calls who are using more than their allocated 10 Watts of power. It's getting to the point where a growing group of amateurs are expecting me to become an amateur radio police officer and that I should be policing the misdeeds of "my F-calls". Seriously? First of all, they're not "my F-calls". I have no more control over them than they have over me. Second, I'm not qualified to assert one way or another that another amateur is breaking the rules. We have a government body specifically for the task, the ACMA. Third, F-calls breaking the rules? Really? And they're following the lead from who? So, no, I'm not a police officer, I'll not be telling F-calls or anyone else off for exceeding their license condition. If they think it's fine to break the rules, that's their problem. If you think that it's a problem that someone is exceeding their conditions you should tell the ACMA. If you don't think it's a problem big enough to warrant doing that, why are you telling me about it? So, no more "this amateur did this and it's wrong". If you want me to talk about learning to find out if you're breaking the rules, or if you want it to be a training opportunity, by all means, keep the emails coming, but I'm not your cop, not today and not until such time as I accept a job at the ACMA. Finally, if you are knowingly breaking the rules, you really should ask yourself why it is that you are doing this. If you need more power, get a higher license. If you are already using the highest power available, then become a member of the WIA and canvas your local politician. The only thing that has ever changed the world is a small group of individuals making a concerted effort. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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More on lightning and bonding.
What use is an F-call? Last week I spent a little time talking about lightning. I discussed how lightning can affect many different things, not just by being a direct hit, but by having a nearby hit, that is, something that is in some way electrically connected to you or your station. We all know that the ground has some level of conductivity, just like air does - the lightning that you see during a thunderstorm is the visualisation of the conductivity of air. In the earth, you don't really see it that clearly, but the same thing happens. Conductivity is measured in Siemens per Meter. Deionised water has a conductivity of about 5.5 micro Siemens per meter, sea water is about 5 Siemens per meter, so, sea water is approximately a million times more conductive than deionised water. Since Siemens is a measure of conductivity and Ohms a measure of resistance, you can convert one into the other as their inverse. A resistor made of 1 cm of seawater at 20C has a resistance of 2 milli Ohm. Ground conductivity is in the order of 1000 times worse than sea water and is typically expressed in milli Siemens per meter. As we're talking about the ground, the conductivity is seasonal, since rain comes and goes, and to add to the mix, this conductivity is frequency dependent. So, In Australia, for a frequency up to 30 kHz, the conductivity varies from 1 to 10 milli Siemens per meter, or 1 cm of ground has a varying resistance between 1 and 10 Ohm. If you look at 1MHz, the conductivity varies much more, from 2 to 50 milli Siemens per meter, depending on where you are, how far you are from the ocean, a river or lake or what the ground is made up of. Back to lightning. Imagine an earth stake next to your shack for your radio and another stake next to your antenna. In a circuit diagram, both of them would show as being connected to earth and you could just look at that and think that all was well with the world. Both are earthed, so you're safe. Unfortunately that's not the case. If you drew the circuit diagram properly there would be a resistor between the two earth stakes. There would also be a conductor, namely your coax between the radio and the antenna. So you have a path of low resistance, the coax, and a parallel path of high resistance, something like 10 kOhm for 10m, between the earth stakes. No points for guessing which one the lightning will take. But the coax is capable of handling that, isn't it? If you have coax rated at 3kV, like RG213, a direct lightning strike will only exceed it's capacity by a million times. So, no, coax is not a good earth path. As an exercise, you can use 300kA as the current for a direct lightning strike. Based on the ground conductivity of 10 milli Siemens per meter, you can work out how far lightning needs to be in order for your RG213 to survive if your earth stakes are 10m apart and not bonded. So the lesson is, bond all of your earth stakes together. Connect the coax shield to the tower and create a Single Point Ground by connecting them all together. There are several online lightning maps showing real-time lightning activity which can also help. Weatherzone incorporates the Bureau of Meteorology Radar images and superimposed lightning strikes. Of course you can also use lightning data to check to see what the noise level might be like at a DX station you're trying to work. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Lightning, not just the radio...
What use is an F-call? During the week we were subjected to some unusual lightning activity. There was lots to go around and it raises the issue on what to do when lightning is nearby. The obvious comments about disconnecting your radio from your antenna is pretty common knowledge, but there are other things that might happen that you hadn't thought about. Lightning is an electrostatic discharge, and strangely enough, RF is closely related, in that your antenna system converts electric energy into voltages that you then insert into your radio. So, lightning will just as easily affect your antenna as it does your radio. We have a basic understanding that a lightning strike directly into the radio is a good way to let out the magic smoke and a comment should be made that you don't need lightning for this to happen; just static electricity in the air is enough to build up enough charge for your radio to die. It's not uncommon to see sparks between the center and shield on an antenna connector while thunderstorms are about. While all this is going on, I'd also like to point out that the feed-line can be affected by lightning and it doesn't have to be a direct strike. Your coax may be heated up, a short might happen, a connector might be affected and if you have lightning arrestors, they might be fused. The point of this is that even if you disconnected your antenna from your radio to protect it, the rest of the system might be affected and it pays to check the state of your antennas and feed-lines before resuming the operation of your station. If you don't, you may find yourself in a situation where your radio survived the lightning storm, only to die when you put full power into your antenna system. Finally, lightning doesn't only have to come from above. If you are near a strike, the earth might come up and bite your hardware from the other end, it's called earth potential rise or EPR and it can kill. The killer isn't that there is a high potential, it's that there is a difference in potential. From the impact point of lightning, potential is dissipated in all directions. As the distance from the impact point increases, the potential decreases. Imagine a field where lightning strikes. Cows who are facing the lightning will have a different potential between their fore and rear legs, causing a current to flow through their bodies, including the heart. This is enough to kill. A cow standing side on has the same effect, but the distance is the width of the cow, not it's length, so the currents are less. This same phenomenon happens within your station. The earthing system, the radio, power supply and the like. So, lightning, it can ruin your day if it hits directly, but you should pay attention to it even if it didn't hit you. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Digital Voice in Amateur Radio is broken...
What use is an F-call? Digital Voice in Amateur Radio is broken. It's a big call for a mere F-call to make, so let me back that up with some facts. There are three basic digital voice products you can buy as an amateur today, D-Star made by ICOM, System Fusion made by Yaesu and MOTOTRBO or TRBO by Motorola. There is also Project 25, or P25. Each of these systems are based around technologies and patents owned by a company called Digital Voice Systems Inc. or DVSI. In essence, each of these systems use the same maths to encode and decode an audio signal. This process of encoding and decoding is embodied in a thing called a Coder / Decoder or CODEC. While each of these use the same maths, owned by the same company, they don't actually inter-operate. What that means that if you want to use a D-Star repeater, you need a D-Star radio, and if you want to use a System Fusion repeater, you need a System Fusion radio, even though both radios use the same maths to make your voice into a digital signal. It gets worse. If Elecraft wants to build a radio that talks to three systems for example, they would need to license the same technology three times, at exhorbitant cost. Most of these are actually achieved by buying a chip from DVSI, not to make it faster, but to protect their maths against people reverse engineering it. It also means that if you want to experiment with Software Defined Radio, you cannot use it to decode D-Star, System Fusion or TRBO, because the costs to license the technoogy is not viable for anyone other than commercial users. In January 2014 I was lucky enough to attend the Linux Conference Australia which at the time was being held in Perth, 15 km from my QTH. Being a comper nerd and becoming a radio nerd meant that this was an opportunity too good to miss. You may have heard some of the 50 interviews I did at that conference. One of the reasons I did those interviews is to begin the process of making my fellow amateurs aware of other ways of doing business. Open Source and Software Freedom are important concepts that relate directly to Amateur Radio. People like David Rowe VK5DGR and Bruce Perens K6BP are at the forefront of developing and advocating alternatives, like Codec2, a piece of software written by David to address this specific problem. Amateur Radio is an experimental hobby. What we do is play with stuff, break it, put it together in new and innovative ways, research and develop. None of those things are possible with Closed Source encombered products like the stuff that ICOM, Yaesu and Motorola are flogging. Yes it's great, it's digital, it improves many things like battery life, bandwidth use and channel separation, but it's also broken. There are 4 and a half D-Star users in VK6, 2 System Fusion users and I'm not aware of any TRBO users. Those numbers are in jest, but this is not widely used technology, despite the fact that digital voice adds many benefits to Amateur Radio. On the other side of the fence, every Amateur Radio has AM, FM, SSB and CW, precisely because there are no such restrictions. Next time you buy a shiny new radio, or advocate a new technology, or invite a trojan horse like a free repeater, it would pay to notice the other issues that the sales people gloss over. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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WIA Awards System
What use is an F-call? As you've heard me talk about making contacts with other countries on many occasions, I thought I'd spend a little time describing what I do when I've actually made the contact. At the moment I'm logging my contact on CQRLOG, it's a Linux based programme that manages each contact, tracks to show if I've uploaded it to Logbook of the World, eQSL and Clublog. I chose those three services based on their functionality and their availability. I won't go into each of them, but combined they allow me to confirm the contacts I've made. Once I've done that I also log into the WIA members section of the Awards system where I upload my contacts. The awards system confirms my contacts with those same three services, Logbook of the World, eQSL and Clublog, to confirm that I have in fact made the contact. There is a ranking system, and if you're into league tables, there is ample opportunity to rank yourself against others. There is even a special section for Foundation Licensees, so you can compare your contact prowess against that of others. For me, it's a place to log what I've done and to keep track of where I'm at. While it's a thrill to be ranked against others, for me it's about my personal achievement. I get the thrill when I make the contact and another one when I see it confirmed. I special mention should go to Marc VK3OHM who spent many emails making sure that the upload actually worked as expected. He helped me figure out that my previous logging software had the grid locator in the wrong field and helped me work out that I needed a later version of CQRLOG to upload to the WIA Awards System, because there was a bug in the one I was using. So, however you keep track of your own progress toward world DX coverage, be it on a piece of paper in a binder, in a notebook or online, I recommend you check out the WIA Awards System. So, where was I, 39 countries towards my QRP DXCC, 5 Watts SSB. More to go. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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How do nets work?
What use is an F-call? In the normal day-to-day interaction between amateurs on air we use the procedure to say the other station's call-sign, followed by our own. If there's two people on-air, this is a simple way to have a discussion. But what if there are more? If it's informal, we tend to talk in a circle, that is, we keep handing the microphone to the next person in the line. For this to work, you need to remember who comes after you, so you can hand it over to them. If you want to join in a discussion like this, say your callsign between hand-overs and you'll be asked to join in. It's best to wait for a whole circuit, so you know who is in the discussion and what the sequence of people is. Again, you need to remember who comes after you. Sometimes this descends into anyone talks to anyone, but often that means that one or more people miss out, so be mindful of those who are sitting on the side, they too might have something to share. If the discussion is a more regular occurrence, it might turn into a more formal thing, called a net. There are many different ways of managing a net, but all of them require that you leave some time between each over, to allow new people to check in, or for the net controller, often the convener of the net, to manage the net. A net can be run with a master controller. Picture it like a spoke and hub. The controller sits in the middle like a chair person in a meeting and you speak to the chair, they hand the microphone to the next person. So the controller will call you and you'll call them. You only need to remember their callsign (and yours of course). To join in, announce your callsign between overs, and the next station should acknowledge you and if it's the controller will invite you in. Sometimes you'll be next, sometimes you'll be added to the list, sometimes you'll be placed where the controller thinks it fits best. If you have urgent business, you might say your callsign with the words "with urgent business", so the controller can hand the microphone to you sooner. The 7130 DX net has a controller, often its Roy, VK7ROY in Tasmania. He'll call for stations to check in and create the master list. He'll then call for stations wanting to make a contact. Roy will run through the contact list, encouraging each station to make one or two DX contacts. When the call-list is done, Roy will ask for more stations on the master list, and so on. As an F-call, it's a great way to be heard and make some DX contacts. As a tip, write down each callsign, name and signal strength you hear, since it will help you figure out who Roy is talking to, and it will help you figure out who you might be able to contact. A station in the USA with a signal strength 2 might not be able to hear your station, then again they might. Each on-air discussion has its own set of conventions, or rules. It pays to have a listen to a discussion before you barge in. If two guys are on air discussing their personal lives, they might not want to talk to you and may ignore you. On the other hand, they might want to hear your contribution, since they too were new hams at one point in their life. Have a listen to on-air discussion, be respectful, and participate. It's lots of fun and often leads to lifetime friendships. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The LCD is a living document.
What use is an F-call? When was the last time you went online and downloaded a copy of the LCD? Do you even know where to find it? Do you know when it last changed and what changes it contained? If the answer is, "I have a copy from 2005 when they introduced the Foundation license.", you have a problem. The LCD changed in 2005 twice, again in 2008, also in 2010 and again in 2013. In total, between 2005 and 2013 there are 546 changes to the document that sets out the conditions to which your amateur license is subject to. Some of those 546 changes are trivial, renaming the department from ACA to ACMA account for about 5 changes, others are more significant. For example, between the 2010 and 2013 issue of the LCD, there were only 21 changes, little ones like changing the date and bigger ones like removing zone restrictions from around Melbourne, Perth and Sydney and adding two new exclusion zones, one off the coast of Exmouth with a 1000km radius and one in the Timor Sea with a 2000km radius. If you add those two exclusions to a map of Australia, you'll find most of the Northern Territory is excluded, half of Western Australia and a big chunk of the north of Queensland. Excluded from what you ask? If you'd read the LCD, you'd know that this was the formal allocation of the 630m band and that Australia added it to the allowed bands for Amateur use, with a few provisos about where you couldn't use it. Between 2008 and 2010 there were 34 changes, gems include conditions under which you can pass message traffic, the addition of the 2200m band and permitting different access control methods. Some of these affect every Amateur, others only the lucky few with ample spare space to run some large antenna systems. In Aviation there is an assumption that the conditions under which you're flying today are different from what they were yesterday and that tomorrow they'll be different again. There are processes for keeping up to date, notification services, subscriptions and the like. In Amateur Radio, there is an assumption that the conditions under which you're operating don't change much at all. The truth is that your Amateur Radio License Conditions are a living thing. Conditions change regularly and sometimes in more ways than you expect. So, get yourself a copy of the LCD, make sure you read and understand it and look for little snakes in the grass that might significantly impact the operation of your station. Tip for new players. In your favorite word processor, you can open the current version of a document and compare it with the previous version using the Compare Document feature. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Which way is the Grey Line?
What use is an F-call? I recently spent some time talking about the Grey Line, about the way it moves around and how it will help you make contacts along its path. If you recall, the direction of the Grey Line changes throughout the year. As the tilt of the earth affects the direction of the sun on your head, it also affects the shadow line that's drawn across the planet as sun-set and sun-rise occur at your QTH. Of course, you already know this. We experience this change as our seasons. So, if the Grey Line changes direction, the obvious question is, "Which way should you point your antenna?" If you are using a vertical, there isn't much pointing going on, but if you have anything that is rotating, even a mobile station qualifies, there is benefit in actually aligning yourself with the Grey Line. Of course you can look online and see a lovely Grey Line map and use that, but that does require that you have access to the Internet, or a phone with an App or some other technology. But you don't really have to get that technical at all. The antenna you're using has a beam-width that is going to be several degrees wide and local environmental factors are going to impact on your experience, so, here's some figuring. At the equinox, the Grey Line runs North - South, that is, twice a year around 20 March and 22 September. For our quick and dirty calculation, March and September is more than accurate enough. At summer and winter solstice, 21 December and 21 June, the Grey Line runs at the maximum angle, the tilt of the earth, 23.5 degrees. So, every quarter of the year, the Grey Line moves about 23 degrees, call it 21 degrees. So every month the Grey Line moves by about 7 degrees. This is about equal to the width of a man's fist held at arm's length. (104mm) So in December, you'll see the Grey Line running at about a bearing of 21 degrees, in January, about 14 degrees, in February about 7, in March about 0, that is North, and so on. Now the only tricky part is, which way do you go around 0 degrees? Is February 7 degrees east, or 7 degrees west of North? It depends on whether you're north or south of the equator. Here in VK, February is East, April is West, August is East, October is West. To remember that, think that the Grey Line is a FEAST. February is East and August is East. Have fun working the Grey Line. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Remember to stop fiddling every now and then...
What use is an F-call? I've now been an amateur since December 2010. In the time that I've been part of this hobby I've come to understand that a large part of the experience is to tinker. We tinker with radios, batteries, antennas, coax, connectors, mobile set-ups and software. We fiddle with circuits, with antenna designs, with locations, with anything and everything. Of course the fiddling is all about improvement, or sometimes, it's just about getting on-air. The more you fiddle, the more you learn and the more experience you gain. So there is good to be had from doing these things. Yesterday I was at a fellow amateur where he had his radio scanning 15m. It was just sitting in the background and as we finished lunch and went into the afternoon, we could hear signals picking up. Eventually the signals became strong enough to work. I managed to add another DX country to my list with his gear and it reminded me that fiddling is only one part of the hobby that I love. I've been so busy getting my station to work and getting more and more frustrated by my inability to get it going that I lost track of the other side of the fence, the actual operating of the radio. So, tinker and fiddle all you like, but remember, sometimes you need to lift your head up from the soldering iron and actually get on air. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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QRM and morons
What use is an F-call? Man-made interference is a wonderful thing. It allows you to appreciate that there are both people and morons on air. Some people become morons, either by accident, or on purpose, but every now and then you have special people who share our airwaves. In case you're wondering, a moron is someone with the intellectual age between 8 and 12. In the past we as amateurs have chosen to ignore them. In general that works pretty well. The moron doesn't know that they're having any effect and they soon move on to greener pastures, hopefully one six foot under, but that's a story for another day. I have a special friend. He's special because he thinks it's particularly funny to disrupt a weekly net that I host called F-troop. He likes to send DTMF tones, play audio tracks and generally be a pain in the rear. This isn't a new thing. I've been logging activity from this moron since April 2012. He comes in every now and then, completely disrupts the net and then pisses off. You could infer from this that I'm angry. That's not true. I'm annoyed that other Amateurs bear the brunt of this particular moron's fetish for my on-air activities. It's a sad day when you cannot run an introductory amateur radio net without special attention from people who clearly haven't understood that large fines exist specifically for the likes of them. I'm glad to report than when we do actually catch this particular moron, there will be a long list of his behavior and if we're particularly fortunate their fine will cost them their house. We can only dream. Got any morons on your repeater? Got any tips. Share them with the community. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The Gray Line changes through the year!
What use is an F-call? In the past I've mentioned the Grey Line. If you recall, this is a twice daily phenomenon. During dawn and dusk, and often slightly before and after, there is an enhanced level of DX propagation. That is, if you're listening while it's happening, you'll notice far-off stations you didn't hear before, clear as day, then five or ten minutes later they're gone. Today I'm not going into the actual process that makes this happen, absorption, D and F layers and the like. The more you read about the physics of this, the more you'll get bamboozled with different and vociferous views. Instead I want to talk about something that hadn't occurred to me until earlier in the week. Once I tell you the response is likely going to be the same as mine was: Duh! So, propagation along, not across, along the Grey Line, is enhanced. So, the line is North-South, right? Well, yes and no. Twice a year it is, at the equinox, when the length of the day and the length of the night is the same, but otherwise, it's not North - South at all. In fact, in my case, when I first learned about the Grey Line, I saw it pointing about North-North-East, South-South-West, perfect for communication with Japan from VK6 and if you're exceedingly lucky, communication with South America. But the earth doesn't rotate vertically on an axis, we have Summer and Winter because the earth is tilted. That means that the Summer/Winter offset of the earth also affects the Grey Line. The effect this has is that your Grey Line target countries change as the year progresses, from Plus 23.5 degrees to Minus 23.5 degrees and of course, also the opposite, from 203.5 down to 156.5 degrees. Thats 47 degrees of rotation across the whole year, twice. So, as your hunger for DX entities intensifies from "anyone, anywhere" to "I gotta get Israel and Brazil", you now can start planning when that might be something that could be achieved with the Grey Line. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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We need mentors!
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio is a personal thing. It's an expression of communication, of exploration, of invention, learning, electronics, physics and personal achievement. The community we are members of is a living organism. We pick up random people from the global community, spark their interest and gain another member. For new entrants to our community there is much to see and do. Often the choices are overwhelming and common mistakes are made. While every person has their own journey through this, there are things we as a group could do to help. Any Amateur can be a mentor or Elmer, to new member of our hobby. As Rob W9BRD said in 1971, "We need those Elmers. All the Elmers, including the ham who took the most time and trouble to give you a push toward your license, are the birds who keep this great game young and fresh." In your local club, is there a mentoring program? Is it explicit? Have people put their name up as a point of contact to new members? Are there activities that your club does that helps new and prospective entrants to our hobby? Of course, if you are not a member of a club, you can still be an Elmer. Nothing to it. Hang your shingle out, talk to people, help them, encourage them, guide them and inspire them. The challenge of being "an unsung father of Amateur Radio" is that you're unsung and often invisible. You might be able and willing to help people, but if nobody knows that you exist, you're not going to be that effective. So, if you have an urge to inspire the new generation of Amateurs, let your community know. Make some noise, get on air on your local repeater or DX net and make it known that you can help. And finally, if you've just come to this magical world of Amateur Radio, Welcome. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Programming repeaters.
What use is an F-call? You purchased a shiny new radio and it's all you imagined and it works great and you're over the moon with your purchase and you're raring to go, but you find yourself constantly typing in the frequencies, or twiddling the VFO to change repeaters. As a last ditch attempt, you've got out the manual and you're busily typing in each repeater, one at a time, and then when you've finally done it, you hit the wrong button and you have start again. Only 22 repeaters more to go. Does this sound familiar? If it doesn't then we should talk. You really should be programming in all your local repeaters, and better still, all the national ones as well. I know that some radios don't have enough channels for all of that, but I must confess that this limitation is becoming less and less. So, if you should do all that and you really don't want to manually do all of that work, how do you actually get all the frequencies into your gear without going insane? You could clone a radio from a friend. They'll need to have the same radio as you do and the radio will need to support a clone mode, but in essence, you make a copy of the settings of their radio into yours. This does require a cable, a friend and two of the same radio, and it requires that they have programmed their radio. That's a lot of requirements. Friends are hard to come by at times, and lazy ones are often close at hand, so likely you'll be the one supplying your frequency list to them, rather than the other way around. Instead of all that, I'd like to point you at a piece of brilliant open source software that runs on Linux, OS X and Windows and has a pretty good chance of being able to program your radio. It's called CHIRP. The list of radios is extensive and increases regularly. You'll still need a programming cable, which will start a whole discussion about which one. It will also head you down the slippery dip of cheap knock-off cables with fraudulent driver chips, so beware when you start hunting for the cable for your radio. Get cracking, no excuse to have your radio sit on one repeater for the rest of its life. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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What is your level of preparedness?
What use is an F-call? Recently I was part of a discussion about emergency preparedness. The idea being that as radio amateurs we're ideally suited to being communication hubs and conduits to pass messages along. Of course as part of that we need to have skills and equipment to make those things possible. I've often said that doing contests are a great way to improve your radio skills. It's an adverse environment in which sending and receiving messages is related to your score and as a bonus, it's a great way to pick up some DX stations that are not yet in your log. There are other things that you can do as an amateur to improve your level of preparedness. I recently conducted an informal survey among a group of amateurs to see which repeaters they had programmed into their radios and which ones they'd actually used. Turns out, in our little group, two repeaters were being used, the rest, around 15 were sometimes programmed into radios, but hardly ever used. As part of improving our skills we want to make sure that we actually know which repeaters we can use, have the ability to actually use them and while we're at it, take the opportunity to pass along some message traffic, just for the fun of trying and the fun of practicing. This is really part of a much larger conversation. For example, you might have a radio and batteries, but do your batteries work with the radio of your mate? Do you have conversion cables to deal with this, are their polarities the same, is there a standard that you might follow? If you're getting into SOTA, Summits On The Air, that is, climbing up mountains and setting up a radio and making contacts, you're well and truly on your way to being prepared for an emergency, with a pack, food, shelter, power and a portable radio. If you have all that and you don't have the skills to pass on messages, then what do you need to do to get those skills? There are formal processes, some of them encompassed by associations like WICEN, the Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network, the local SES and other first responders. What is your level of preparedness, not only your radio, but your skills? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Raspberry Pi SDR
What use is an F-call? I've just built myself v1.0 of a Raspberry Pi SDR. It still has some way to go until I can show it off - needs a touch screen, a power supply that runs on 12V, some user interface elements, but the functionality is there. If you're unfamiliar with the nature of a Raspberry Pi, it's a single board computer, the size of a credit card, has Ethernet, USB, HDMI, audio, video and a MicroSD card slot. My version comes with 512Mb of memory. It's 17mm high. This is a tiny fully functional computer. From a geek perspective, it's running a version of Debian Linux, called raspbian. It's the same version of Debian as my main computer, Wheezy, which means that everything you have on your main computer, you could theoretically use on a Raspberry Pi. I've plugged in a USB Television Dongle, one that allows it to be reprogrammed into a versatile receiver. After a little bit of programming, nothing too complex, I can now see wave forms and spectrograms of 2 MHz of bandwidth. I'm aiming to make this enclosed and self-contained, so I can take it with me in the field and use it as a pan-adapter with my Yaesu 857d. So far it's cost me $38 for the Raspberry Pi, $15 for the SDR dongle. I'm waiting for a screen to come back in stock, but in the mean time I've just plugged it into my monitor on my desk. It's only a little hack, but it was fun to do. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Share your experiences...
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio is a social activity. It's about communication and community. Ironically, as much as we are about talking to one and other, we still do some activities all on our own. If you're hunting for a rare station, trolling up and down the bands, looking for that elusive callsign or country, or sitting in a pile-up, calling and calling and calling some more, hearing your callsign and confirming a contact, that kind of activity is very solitary. It doesn't have to be. I know the feeling of getting a hard get and putting down your microphone and jumping up and down, yelling in celebration, wanting to tell someone, your XYL, the neighbors, the cat, anyone about your amazing feat of achievement, I've been there. If you do this with a fellow amateur, either both of you in the same shack or via a local repeater, or on 850MHz, or via email, that experience means something to the other person. I just got a message from a great friend who managed to speak with Israel on 6m, something he's been trying to do for 38 years. I have a pretty good idea how he feels. Mind you, I'm not old enough to have tried contacting someone for 38 years - well, technically, I suppose I am, but I get it, the exhilaration of the achievement, the swelling of the chest, the smile on your face, the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. That's what Amateur Radio is all about. I've said previously, one person's achievement is another's bread and butter. I'm still trying to get my first contact with Israel on any band - one station heard me once, but they couldn't get all the letters in order in one go. It's not yet percolated through the Amateur consciousness that an F-call comes with an extra letter, but at least I proved to myself I could get there. I'm not yet allowed on 6m and I'm sure I'll spend many hours at some future time attempting to make the same contact, but right now, I'm happy to celebrate the achievement someone else made. In case you're wondering, VK6YS and 4X4DK. So, share your achievements, it makes them sweeter! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Learning from listening...
What use is an F-call? As an F-call, working DX, you'll spend many hours looking for that elusive contact, or you'll turn on your radio, tune around, hear a station, call back and bag a new country. It's all there for the taking, one contact at a time. As you operate on HF, you'll notice a whole range of operating skills, from amazing to atrocious and everything in between. You'll hear stations who keep calling two letters of their callsign, or those who run a pile-up for 40 contacts without once uttering their own callsign. You'll hear people who are not sure about their microphone and seem afraid it might bite, and those who are seemingly completely deaf to the world. As you listen around you'll begin to discern those operators who are doing an amazing job, who, apparently without effort, pull your callsign out of the muck and come back to your first call, and you'll hear those who say all the letters of your callsign, but never in one sentence or in the correct order. The difference between you and all those operators is that hopefully you have no habits yet. You don't yet know how it's done and you're yet to learn about the ins and outs of what's going on. So, starting at the top. Listen. Then, listen some more. Understand that if a station is giving out 5 and 9 for everyone, that unless the bands are amazing, it's likely that all they're doing is collecting callsigns and yours can be one in the mix. They don't want to hear about your dog, or your antenna or your radio, and often they don't even care about your name. So, jump in with your callsign, give them a 5 and 9 report and move on. KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. While you're at it, don't get into the habit of calling part of your callsign. You have no idea what part of it they recognized, since you're transmitting at the same time as everyone else, you might find that your F-call ends later than most and ends up being the last few letters they hear. Finally, the prefix, the VK6 part of your callsign is just as important as the suffix, the FLAB part. Arguably much more so, since it tells people roughly where you are, so don't swallow the VK6 when you're giving it out. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The QSL card is not dead!
What use is an F-call? On previous occasions I've discussed the QSL system in Amateur Radio. It's a mechanism that uses what's known as out-of-band communications to confirm contacts. For over a hundred years that has been mostly in the form of QSL cards. Since the introduction of the Internet, websites and pervasive computing, some of the confirmations have been moved from card to electron. I've had about 29 countries confirmed electronically and two via card. Until about 10 minutes ago I was convinced that electronic QSL confirmation was the way to go. Before I explain why, there is a place for both, electronic confirmation is simple, cheap and often very quick. QSL cards on the other hand are involved, sometimes costly and often take a long time. I'm sitting at my desk with a stack of QSL cards for the VI103WIA callsign which was activated during the Wireless Institute Conference which was held here in Fremantle in May of 2013. These cards are about contacts made a long time ago, though I've had it told that some QSL cards can take more than a decade, these were a little faster than that. I'm looking at these cards, each a little story told by an operator who shares my hobby, a person who is interested in Amateur Radio, who lives with their family in some far-flung country, who took the time to acknowledge that they made contact with a callsign back here in Western Australia. I wasn't the operator for each of these contacts, but I did operate that callsign and I shared some of the on-air experiences. The two countries that I have confirmed with cards directly sent to me are memories of a contact made. I recall when I was sitting in a particular location, with my radio, trying to talk to the world and here is a card saying that it really happened and that there was another person on the other side of the contact. You can think of this as sentimental cods-wallop, and for some it might well prove to be that, but for me, it connects me more to the world of Amateur Radio and some of the long history that it represents. I'll continue to use electronic QSL, I mean there's still a thrill to see a confirmation of a contact made with Amsterdam Island, even if it's just a tick in a box on a computer screen, but I'll cherish the contacts sent to me via card, either direct or via the Bureau. If only I'd written down what my very first QSO was. Now go and make some contacts and send out some cards. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Small Changes can have a Big Effect
What use is an F-call? Yesterday I learned an interesting lesson. It wasn't a simple lesson to learn, but I'm guessing it's going to take me some years to come to grips with what I experienced. Said plainly, "Small Changes can have a Big Effect" That's pretty straight forward as a lesson, but when you actually experience it head on, it tends to make more impact. As you've heard in the past, I operate my radio mostly from my car. I recently purchased some antennas that I want to mount on my car and want to use without an antenna tuner. Don't get me wrong, my antenna coupling unit has done some amazing things. It continues to work well with my 12m squid pole and I'll continue to take it with me when I go camping. With a friend and fellow amateur we spent most of yesterday fiddling with my antennas on my car. I have to say, doing this with someone else makes life a lot better. You can bounce ideas off each other, prod the other into action with a calculator, argue about the merits of your idea and figure out what's going on. In my experience, nothing beats having someone with you to figure stuff out. Originally I mounted my antenna on the center of my boot lid, between the front of the boot and the back window. I set the mount to be parallel with the boot, about a 4 degree angle. So, one of the silly ideas we had, and really the credit goes to my friend Allen VK6XL, was to make my mount more vertical. I looked at him, he looked at me, I shook my head and called him silly names. We were getting all manner of responses from the antenna analyzer and nothing made sense. I undid the bolt and adjusted the angle by less than 4 degrees. When you look at it from the side, the antenna started with a slight lean, now it was standing straight up. All of a sudden the recalcitrant antenna started playing ball. It was finally resonant within the band and finally had an SWR that wasn't embarrassing. I am still working through what I saw, capacitance between the antenna and the car, between the antenna and the ground, between the various parts of the car, but somehow this minute change made all the difference. Suffice to say, I owe Allen a beer. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Tuning mobile antennas...
What use is an F-call? I've recently purchased four verticals, one for each of the HF bands I'm allowed to use. I installed them and started playing, only to be confronted with some interesting results. The 80m and 40m verticals have a very high Q, that is to say, they resonate on a particular frequency and you can make contacts at those frequencies with about 22 kHz variation. This is as expected. My antenna analyser picture looks just like the one on the box. This is great. In theory all I should need to do is trim them a little bit and have them resonant at the frequency I want to operate on. I did hold off on the trimming, since cutting antennas longer is pretty hard to do, and because I got some weird results for the other two verticals. On 10m and 15m the antennas are resonant outside the band. On 15m it's below the band and on 10m it's above the band. I could just cut the 15m antenna shorter, but there is something strange going on here. I tried using different mounts, even a magnetic - not recommended - mount and still got strange things happening. I consulted some amateurs with more experience, one suggested that I remove the stinger and see if the result was in keeping with what was expected, that is, would it move the resonant frequency by the amount of shortening that removing the stinger would mean. Another explained that the roof of my car was getting in the way and that it was changing the characteristics of my antenna. I tried all manner of things, but trimming the stinger was not one of them. I'm glad I didn't. Yesterday I removed the 2m vertical from my house and as an experiment put the 15m antenna in its place. They're within 5cm length of each other, so the neighbours won't actually notice. I hooked up the analyser and found that it was perfectly resonant on 15m, worked with the same high level of accuracy that the 80m and 40m antennas represent. I also took the analyser for a spin up and down the band and found that my 15m antenna is also good for 2m and 70cm, so I don't have to pull it down every week while I experiment. I've yet to hear a strong enough signal on 15m to work anyone, but I'm not yet sure if that is because my antenna isn't working or because propagation is up the creek. I'm crossing my fingers it's the latter. I've not worked out what my car is doing to this antenna, but now at least I know that it's unlikely to be the antenna itself, which is great news. Off to do some more reading and consulting of fellow amateurs. Who knows, one of them might have some ideas. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Everyday Terms, think about them sometimes
What use is an F-call? In our hobby we come across terms and names that we use and commonly understand, that is, we think we understand them. I mean, what's a velocity factor and what is a dielectric? Simple right? The velocity factor is something to do with coax and the dielectric is something to do with capacitors. Next. Hold on. Let's have a little closer look at this. The velocity factor is the wave propagation speed, or the velocity of propagation, relative to the speed of light. That is to say, it's a percentage of the speed of light. In a piece of RG58, the velocity factor is anywhere between 66% and 73% of the speed of light. You already know that the wavelength of a frequency is dependent on the medium it's traveling through, so when you calculate the wavelength of 21 MHz, you do some maths and out drops around about 15m. If you want to make a resonant antenna, it has to be some part multiple of that wave length, so a piece of wire 15m long will be a single wave length. Well, no. The velocity of a wire will in effect slow down the radio wave, thus it will mean that the resonant length is the velocity factor of the wire times the wave length, or in our first example, 66% of 15m. Yes, I've not taken into account end effects and all manner of other things, but it's a good first approximation. One thing to note that a piece of wire with a low velocity factor can be shorter, thus likely take up less space and perhaps even be cheaper, since copper is not a cheap element. So if metal is metal, and we ignore the hyperbole about $200 HDMI cable, how does one piece of copper get a higher velocity factor than another? That's where the dielectric comes in. Another term for dielectric constant, is the relative permittivity. It's the measure of resistance that is encountered when forming an electric field in a medium. We start with vacuum, which by definition has a permittivity of 1. Teflon has a permittivity of 2.1, Polyethylene is 2.25 and for comparison, paper has a permittivity of 3.85 and water at room temperature is 80.1. Each of these materials resists the creation of an electric field in different ways. If you create coax with a dielectric that has a high relative permittivity, you end up with a low velocity factor which means a shorter antenna or coax run. This is a simplified version of what's going on, since I've not talked about the thickness of the dielectric, the thickness of the copper, the spacing of the center core and outer shield, but the basic take-away is that everything is related to everything else. A simple term like velocity factor or dielectric hides a myriad of other concepts. Have a look around next time you think you know what something means, a surprise is sure to be waiting around the corner. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Everything Changes All The Time ... pay attention
What use is an F-call? When you operate your station on a regular basis you might find yourself lulled into the belief that all is well with the world and that your station will continue to operate as expected. It worked yesterday, so why wouldn't it work today - nothing changed. Having now operated my station for several years and having been granted the opportunity to operate stations built and maintained by others I can categorically state that nothing stays the same, ever. In fact, it's probably better to work on the assumption that your station is changing all the time, that it's different than it was yesterday and even different than it was an hour ago. This variation is the result of a number of things that affect the operation of your station. The weather is an obvious influence. Antennas are subject to the wind, the rain and the sun, not to mention lightning and atmospheric ionisation. But the weather is not the only variable. Power supplies are fed by the grid which fluctuates, power supplies heat up and cool down, so does your radio, the connectors that connect the coax to your radio and the like. If you have an amplifier, it too heats up and cools down. Contraction and expansion slowly doing their physics to trip you up. Jostling a connector, or a coax might disconnect something that has been connected for years, or doing a test, plugging an antenna into another radio, might just be the straw that broke the camel's back. My point is that even in a so-called static environment, things change, all the time. If you pick up your radio and go mobile with it, you're used to things being in different places, wear and tear and the like, but in your home station, you might not find such things nearly as easily. So, pay attention to what your radio is saying, watch the SWR, the power, the voltage, use the meters that are there to tell you that something is wrong. One day it will make the difference between a quick fix and a $1000 repair. Just because it's working right now, doesn't mean it will be the next time you key the mike. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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QRP is everywhere
What use is an F-call? Having a Foundation License, the basic amateur licence in a three tiered system that is in use in Australia, means that you have access to low power only. 10 Watts PEP is the limit today, though that might change as reviews get underway. I've said in the past that if you operate an advanced call as a QRP station, that is, SSB 5 Watts or less, and you make a contact, you're showered with accolade. This illustrates that there is a disconnect between an F-call who legally needs to use QRP and an advanced call who chooses to. At the time I suggested that as an F-call, you look at the QRP community who will be sharing your experience of low power, because they want to, even if you're required to. There are other activities that you can participate in as an F-call, using your low power station. SOTA, or Summits On The Air is an Amateur Radio activity where some stations are activated on the top of summits, that is, an energetic individual climbs up a mountain with radio gear, erects their antenna, switches on their station and starts making contacts. You as an F-call can be the climber, or you can be a home-station, making contacts with such activated summits. There is a whole community around this activity and it's not limited to summits either. You'll find groups who are activating national parks with the Keith Roget Memorial National Parks award, islands on the air, Rapidly Deployed Amateur Radio, and many others. You can be the ham in the middle, making contacts, or you can be the ham at home chasing contacts. Since many of these activities are limited by the amount of gear you can carry, they're often QRP stations, making contacts and having fun. So, look around you, there are QRP stations everywhere. They don't make much noise it's the thrill of the hunt that makes the catch all the more rewarding. Get on air, QRP or not. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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It's not about sitting in a shack talking on the radio...
What use is an F-call? As I've said many times before, Amateur Radio blows me away. Every week I see new and imaginative things that this community achieves through trial and error, from contacts across new bands, coordination of new activities such as fox-hunts and SOTA activations. We are a fool hardy lot, climbing up hills to "activate" them, or doing the same thing for light-houses, or museums. There's a surfing contest where you collect callsigns to spell the locations of surfing beaches as outlined in the Beach Boy's "Surfin USA" song, which includes an Australian beach as well. It's wonderful to hear about Amateurs talking to other Amateurs, both using portable gear, both standing on top of a summit and exchanging reports across the country. Recently an F-call decided that he wanted to try to build a cavity from bits purchased at a hardware store. Complete with video of the achievement, testing and SWR measurements, a $15 experiment to see if he could do it. Wanting to learn more about his build he sought and found assistance from other Amateurs offering suggestions and equipment to help out. There's a group of Amateurs who are experimenting with a new Internet linking protocol, AllStarLink. Using single board computers like the BeagleBone Black to run copies of embedded Linux with a full dynamic switching system on board to deal with nodes dropping in and joining. Think telephone exchange with roaming handsets. There are amateurs experimenting with different types of antennas, made from Horse Tape, advanced calls learning about tuning up 40m dipoles on 80m, antenna manufacturers building 80m single frequency dipoles in the space of a 40m dipole, repeaters being built, control systems being updated, new services being invented and masts being erected. Don't for a minute think that Amateur Radio is just about sitting in a shack with a microphone, talking to another Amateur in a similar shack somewhere else, doing the same thing. Having an F-call is being part of this community, warts and all, it's an amazing place to hang out and do stuff. So get off your terminator and go to it. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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There are more than just Amateurs Listening...
What use is an F-call? In the past I've mentioned that we're not alone on the bands. We as a community, Hams, or Radio Amateurs have radio spectrum we can use, specific ranges of frequencies that are available to our exclusive or shared use. Radio being radio means that we're also able to be heard by other radio users. Those users come from all walks of life. Not only do we have diversity within our own little community, the listeners beyond our license add a whole new range of variety. We sometimes refer to them as short wave listeners, but that's not all and it's not particularly accurate either. We have of course our share of CB listeners, sometimes disparagingly referred to as Chicken Band, there are members of HF clubs and associations, people with scanners, and many other individuals and groups that are able to hear our transmissions. Some of those people might one day feel welcome enough to join in the party that Amateur Radio represents. They'll feel part of the community because they've been listening for years. So my first point for today is that you should be mindful of your audience. Being less than complementary to other listeners, disparaging of mere SWL'ers, or CB'ers is not an inclusive activity and should be frowned on just as much as abuse of F-calls. Secondly, our extended audience has lessons learned, skills acquired and has its own eco-system around their activities. If Amateurs reach out to those communities, you might find a whole range of new hams, just itching to join in. If you are part of our extended family. Hello. Welcome, good to have you with us. If you'd like to talk to us, or if you'd like to learn more about how this magic of radio works behind the scenes, or how you might improve your own station, don't be afraid to ask. Find a group of Amateurs, a club, or contact your local training arm. If all that fails and you're not sure where to go, drop me a line. You can send email to my callsign @ wia.org.au, so that's vk6flab@wia.org.au I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
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Newness should not be a barrier to participation
What use is an F-call? When I started recording this weekly segment, there were lots of things I didn't know. I was apprehensive about how my contribution to Amateur Radio might be received, about what I should talk about, how long it should last, what tone I should set, how technical I should be and all manner of other considerations. When I started in Amateur Radio itself, not long before I started this segment, I had similar concerns and considerations, things I was worried about and skills I was unsure about. Today that is still the case, but of course in time, the what's and the hows have evolved. I still question the things I know to be true, just to make sure that I understood what I was being told, or that I had completed the procedure correctly. I speak to new Amateurs almost every week. I also speak to senior members of our community regularly. One thing is clear is that human frailty is universal. There is one thing that sets the experienced members aside from the new members, that is how they react to this uncertainty. New members almost universally defer to their seniors, to the point of being silent when a senior member speaks out and says or does something wrong. In an aeroplane, such circumstances can lead to planes crashing, in Amateur Radio, the consequences are less likely to be quite that catastrophic. Nonetheless, if you're a new Amateur, it doesn't mean that you're wrong or what you might know is something that the other person didn't know, or, might have forgotten. So, don't let your newness to the hobby prevent you from speaking up and asking questions. There's nothing wrong with asking someone to explain something, perhaps you'll learn something or perhaps they'll learn something from you. Communities like ours can only thrive if all members participate, so, new or old, go out, get on air, play during field days and participate in contests. Have fun! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Learn from your mistakes and share them...
What use is an F-call? Recently I received an email from an Amateur who has had their license for over 30 years and been in the electronics field for more than 40. He shared with me an experience that goes to the heart of why it pays to share, even if this particular experience left his mates with sore bellies from laughing so hard. Without going into too much technical background, the devil is in the detail. Our amateur, was working on a project which required a particular part. He was a little short, so after a quick check of the specs, substituted for a part with similar performance. The parts were duly soldered onto the board - bit of a mammoth task, 1.5mm separation, 21 components in a double row next to each other. A little later, more parts were needed. At this time our friend discovered that there was a difference between the two parts, one was an NPN Darlington transistor, the other a PNP Darlington transistor. If you don't know what that means, think of it as two identical devices that work in reverse, not the same, but similar to installing a diode back to front. So, the next task was to remove all those diligently soldered parts - without destroying them - since they were needed elsewhere. The morale of this story is: "Act in haste, regret at leisure." In this case, a quick read of the specs was the cause of the incorrect substitution, which resulted in extra soldering, belly aches for his mates and embarrassment for our friend. How does this affect you? It doesn't. But next time you're building a project you might think twice about quickly substituting parts and protecting your friends from hurting themselves when they laugh too hard. The German language has a wonderful word for this: "Schadenfreude" - pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. You know you shouldn't laugh, but you can't help yourself. No matter how experienced, how senior, or how junior. We all make mistakes. Share them with your mates, so they can learn and tell the story a couple of times, so you can learn. Tip for young players, a BC517 is an NPN Darlington transistor and a BC516 is a PNP one. I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
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How much do you gain from more power?
What use is an F-call? When you get an amateur radio license, you learn that different license classes have different power limits. The basic power limit in Australia, the foundation license, or f-call, has 10 Watts as the limit. The standard license has 100 Watts and the advanced license has a maximum legal limit of 400 Watts. It's natural to think that more power gives you more reach, but realistically, what does that look like, what is the difference between 10 Watts and 100 Watts? Can you really notice a difference? From my own experiments, I can confirm that it's possible to talk to the opposite side of the earth with 5 Watts, but was that a fluke, or is there more to it? What is the difference? All things being equal, that is, the same radio, the same conditions, the same antenna, the same location, etc. - the difference between 10 Watts and 100 Watts is a 10-fold increase, or, if you have 400 Watts at your finger-tips, that's 40 times more - right? Not quite. If you recall, a dBm is a decibel-milliwatt, or said differently, 0dBm is the equivalent of 1 milliwatt. If you double the power, 3dBm, you're looking at roughly 2 milliwatt. 10 Watts is the same as 40dBm. 100 Watts is the same as 50dBm. That means that between 10 Watts and 100 Watts, there is 10dB difference, that is, there is a 10dB gain if you go from 10 Watts to 100 Watts. On a HF radio, on your S-meter, an S-point is defined as 6dB. That means that the difference between a 10 Watt contact and a 100 Watt contact is less than 2 S-points. The difference between 100 Watts and 400 Watts is even smaller. 400 Watts is 56dBm. As I said, an S-point is 6dB, so, the difference between a contact made using 100 Watts and one made with 400 Watts is one S-point. An F-call using 10 Watts, is 3 S-points worse off than an Advanced call using 400 Watts, all else being equal. Of course, depending on the conditions and the deafness of the operator on the other end, that might well be the difference between making the contact or not. If you start at S-9 with 400 Watts and there's 30dB path loss because of band conditions, you end up at S-4, but if you start with 10 Watts at S-6, you end up at S-1. The path loss has a bigger impact on your readability than the amount of power you're putting out. The main take-home is that an F-call can make contacts with their 10 Watts and they're only 3 S-points behind the big guns with their fancy Advanced license. Before you start mouthing off about the 1500 Watts allowed in the United States, that's just under 62 dBm, so just one more S-point. That's not to say that there is no benefit in upgrading your license; access to bands and modes, home built transceivers and other perks, but power shouldn't be why you upgrade. One final observation. I've noticed that if you're confident on-air, other stations hear you better. That might mean that the 400 Watts that you have as an advanced licensee might make you more confident, thus making more contacts. Be brave, be confident, make your contacts with as little power as you can. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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How to do a contest?
What use is an F-call? If you've just gained your license and you're still not sure what to do with it, I can strongly recommend that you have a go at the Remembrance Day contest. It's an annual event where amateurs spend 24 hours commemorating the cessation of hostilities in the Pacific. The contest happens every year on the weekend closest to the 15th of August and runs from Saturday at 03:00 UTC until Sunday, 03:00 UTC. The aim is to make as many contacts as possible between amateurs in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guniea, or said using Amateur Speak, VK,ZL and P2. I hear you asking how does it work? Very simple. One station calls CQ Contest, something like this: "CQ Contest, CQ Contest, CQ Remembrance Day Contest, this is Victor Kilo Six Foxtrot Lima Alpha Bravo, Victor Kilo Six Foxtrot Lima Alpha Bravo, VK6FLAB, CQ Contest." At that point you shut your mouth for a few beats and then you start again. If all goes to plan, you'll hear another station saying "VK6WI". At that point, you'll say something like: VK6WI, you are 59 004. They in return would say something like "Thank you for 59 004, VK6FLAB, you're 59 083". Then you'd say: "Thank you. CQ Contest, VK6FLAB." and you'd start again. In that interaction, I've sent my callsign to VK6WI and he's sent his back. I've also sent him a signal report, the 59 part and the exchange, which for this contest is the number of years you've had a licence. I'd enter these things into my contest log, which I strongly recommend should be VKCL. If this is too steep as a learning curve, and you might feel a little daunted, you can always participate with another station. Find a local club who is going to participate and join in. The RD contest is an excellent way to get your feet wet in contesting and it's simple to participate. New F-calls have won several awards over the years, so all you need to do is get going. The RD contest, do it for fun, learning and remembrance. And remember to put your log in! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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dB and dBm
What use is an F-call? In a previous discussion I talked about decibels. The take home from that was that a decibel represents a ratio between two things. The gain of an antenna over the gain of a standard reference antenna, or the power loss between the start of a coax cable and it's end. I also mentioned that there are several other things with dB in them. Today I'd like to introduce the dBm, or Decibel milliwatt. It's a unit used to compare and contrast different levels of output. Unlike the Decibel, which is a ratio, the dBm is an absolute unit. It is referenced to a Watt. In audio and telephony, it's relative to a 600 ohm impedance, but in our RF patch, it's relative to a 50 ohm impedance. So, how do you use it, what does it mean and why is it useful? Let's look at some large and small numbers. If you look at an FM broadcast radio station, it typically uses 100 kilowatt, a 1 with 5 zeros. If you look at the received signal power of a GPS satellite, you might get 0.2 femtowatt, or 0.000 and 12 more 0's followed by a 2. Using those kinds of numbers side-by-side is a hand-full, prone to mistakes, and there are better ways. Instead of using Watts, we could also express the output power of an FM station as 80 dBm, and the GPS satellite signal strength as -127.5 dBm. Those numbers are much easier to work with. Think of it as 80 dB gain over 1 milliwatt. When you're dealing with ratio's, to string them together, to look at say the loss of the output coming out of your radio, through a connector, through the coax, through another connector into an antenna with a certain gain, using decibels, you can simply add the losses and gains up and get a number at the end that represents the total loss or gain of power leaving your radio and making it into your antenna and being emitted as a radio signal. Why is this useful? Let's say a connector has .04 dB loss at 28 MHz. 20m of RG58 has a loss of 1.6 dB. A 10m loop antenna has a gain of 2.1 dB over a simple dipole. How would this perform? Simply add and subtract. 2.1 dB antenna gain, less .04 dB connector loss, less 1.6 dB coax loss, less .04 dB connector loss, leaves you with .42 dB gain over connecting a dipole directly to your radio. If you have radio that transmits with 5 Watts, it puts out 37 dBm. If you connect it to the system we just invented, the total output of your radio is 37 dBm plus .42 dB gain, or 37.42 dBm. The effective radiated output of your radio is now 5.5 Watts. If you replace the RG58 with RG8, your antenna system changes from .42 dB gain to 1.95 dB gain, just by removing the 1.6 dB loss from the RG58 and replacing it with 0.7 dB loss from the RG8. The radio, again at 5 Watts, would effectively radiate 37dBm plus 1.95 dB gain, making 38.95 dBm, or 7.9 Watt ERP. Again, doing maths with loss and gain expressed in dB's and dBm's are simple addition and subtraction. If you do this for a 100 Watt or 50 dBm radio, the RG58 based antenna would be 50.42 dBm or 110 Watt vs, 51.95 dBm or 157 Watts ERP. Remember, all we're doing is adding and subtracting dB losses and gain to our transmitter output. If that blows your mind, you could now simply add the gains and losses between your radio, the coax, the antenna, the free-air path loss, the receiving antenna, their coax and their radio and actually calculate what an S5 report might mean when you get it for a DX contact. Or you could calculate how much antenna gain you needed for a QRP moon bounce. That's why it's useful. dB and dBm, they're your friends. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Looking at mobile antennas for HF.
What use is an F-call? As you might know or recall, I don't have HF at my QTH. So far my DX activities have been using other people's equipment and using my 12m squid-pole when I'm either camping or set-up at some waterside location. This seriously curtails my activities and I'm keen to do something about it. Over the past few weeks I've been looking at different options, it's a process that everyone goes through, and sometimes you come out of it having gained some experience. I'm not shy in asking questions, but the replies are sometimes a little more difficult. I've heard the "try it and see" reply many times, and while that's fine if you have a money tree in the back yard, that's not really going to work for me. I've also been advised to home-brew a solution. While I'm all for that, I've built a few minor things; if I add up the money I've spent on home-brewing antennas, I'm not doing so well. It's $5 here, $2.50 there, a roll of wire, a pole or two, sockets, plugs, rope, you name it, it's in my shack. I reckon I've spent more than enough money for the moment on building things that don't quite work as advertised. Of course I'll be the first to admit that I've learnt heaps from doing it, but at the moment, all I really want is to get on air and make some contacts. I hit on the idea of getting a heavy-duty boot-lip mount and using the same mount for HF and VHF/UHF. I realise that I won't be able to use the same antenna, or that any antenna that claims to work all bands is likely to be pretty inefficient, so I'm getting geared up for having several mono-band whips and exchange them as I need to. I'm not expecting to operate while I'm on the move, but I would like to be able to turn my engine on and drive away once I've had enough. My squid-pole prevents that, since packing up a 12m fibreglass pole with ground wires is not a trivial affair. I looked at screw-driver antennas, contraptions that physically move bits around to tune the antenna. The only one that everyone agrees works is a hulking big Codan antenna. If I have a truck or a 4WD, that would work great, but my little Holden Cruze is not suited to such a monster. The Yaesu ATAS120 antennas seem to be pretty fragile and I'm guessing the dust on a dirt road would seriously affect it. I saw several others, but so far none of these stick out. I'm leaning towards a 10, a 15, a 40 and an 80m whip, four in all, centre loaded, 2.2m long each. I don't yet know how they pack away, if I have to re-tune them every time I put them together, or even if they are built to be dismantled. They're made by Diamond, but the jury is still out on whether this is an actual usable, useful solution. The journey continues. What experience do you have in your adventures? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Clubs and F-calls?
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio is a hobby that gains and loses members as does any other hobby. One aspect of the hobby differs, that of licensing. To join Amateur Radio, you need to be licensed, that is to say, if you want to transmit, rather than receive. In the vast majority of cases, the place where people join is as an F-call. They do their course, do their exam and after paying the requisite fees, they gain their license. After that they're pretty much left on their own. Amateur Radio clubs also gain and lose members. There is a certain movement of amateurs between clubs, but new members can essentially only come from one source, that is, New Amateurs. So, why is it that the majority of clubs in Amateur Radio are not geared up to dealing with New Amateurs? I know that there are occasional talks, the odd presentation, the infrequent training, but that's about it. I know there is at least one club who has lowered their fees for an F-call, and I'm sure it does something for people joining, but I cannot say that it fills me with a great thrill to see that this is the sum total of the marketing ability of Amateur Radio clubs. Why do clubs not have an induction manual, a buddy system, a club mentor, a new welcoming event, special F-call activities, inter-club events and public activities specifically geared towards those who have just, or are about to, join the community? It is staggering to me that a ready source of new enthusiasm that F-calls represent are not snaffled up, that clubs don't go the effort of sending a letter to new Amateurs as they appear in the ACMA database. I know for a fact that F-calls are hungry for information, for community, for belonging, for participating and often they have some money to spend. So, what are you waiting for, permission? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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No more bullies
What use is an F-call? If you're new to Amateur Radio, you may be surprised to learn that we have bullies among us, but if you've been around for a while, you'll have heard it, or perhaps even experienced it first hand. Yesterday I received two communications from two separate amateurs on different sides of the country. Both had been the victim of bullies. One was from an F-call and the other, an Advanced-call. Both of them described some of their experiences, how they felt belittled, hurt, humiliated and abused. One of these people stayed off air for a week, the other told me that they've left the hobby altogether. The vast majority of amateurs are wonderful people. They have fun, seek friendship, enjoy learning new things and meeting new people. Unfortunately there are those who feel that it's their right, privilege and sometimes even responsibility to police the airwaves and abuse others along the way. We have repeater trolls who sit on "their repeater" and tell you off for using it. We have bullies who troll up and down the bands looking for infractions. They yell "Pirate" when they perceive that someone is doing something wrong, without taking the time to actually ask what's going on. There are those who have the ACMA database on speed dial and check every callsign they hear, never mind if they mishear, and start abusing people on air. We have little darlings who think it's OK to abuse foreign accents, or to hit on women on air. There are "experts" who share their "expertise" by abusing people making mistakes. All of these examples are things I've personally heard or have spoken directly to the person to whom it happened. Bullying is no laughing matter, it's not funny, it's not cool, it's not smart and most of all it has to stop. You may think that this is an isolated case, that it isn't endemic, that F-calls are inviting this behaviour and really they shouldn't be on-air. I've got news for you. An F-call is a licensed amateur and should be afforded the courtesy and privilege that is afforded to all amateurs the world over. As I said, this has got to stop. I'm starting a bullying reporting form. It will take your details and the details of the bully, or if you heard someone else being bullied, it will take the details you heard and we'll start logging this abuse. Over time we're likely to find some repeat offenders and we'll start handing their details over to the ACMA and before long they'll find their licence revoked and their equipment impounded. In the mean time, if you are the subject of being bullied, log the details, as much as you can remember, at the time of the event. If you are able, record the audio. Don't engage the bully. Find a friend within 24 hours and talk to them. Pick up the phone, send them an email, get in touch with someone else. Don't stew on this on your own. You did nothing wrong, it's not your fault. Don't take matters into your own hands, don't look up their address and pay them a visit. It's likely to land you into lots of trouble. Play it cool. Ignore and log it. Karma is a bitch. The bullying reporters form is now live on the vk6.net website with some other resources for you. If you need to get in touch with me, you can: vk6flab@wia.org.au. No more bullies. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Contesting, it's for you!
What use is an F-call? On previous occasions I've spoken about contesting and what it might add to your amateur experience. I know that there are amateurs who are convinced that contesting isn't for them, you'll never hear them on air, they don't think it's worth while, it's too complicated, it's not fun, it's not them. I beg to differ. In my opinion, contesting is among the most fun you can have with amateur radio and it's the most challenging, rewarding and fundamental test of your amateur abilities. I know that you might be thinking that your station isn't up to the task, but I learnt at an early age that if you don't try, you're guaranteed to fail. Of course there are contests that are high profile, attract the bulk of the world wide amateur community and flood the band with their noise, but there are also smaller and even tiny contests where you can practice and get your feet wet. There is at least one contest every weekend of the year, that's 52 contests right there, but the reality is that there are many, many more contests than that. In essence a contest is the process of sending unique information to another station, and receiving unique information from then, logging the exchange and moving on to the next station. What the exchange is differs for each contest, for some it's a number that keeps incrementing each time you make a contact, for others it's your state, or your years in amateur radio, or your location, or any number of other forms of exchange. A contest is of course not just sending and receiving information, it's a test of your equipment, your radio, antenna, microphone, logging software and any number of other aspects of the hobby that will challenge you. You'll learn about propagation, you'll use your phonetic alphabet more than you thought possible and you'll learn that different countries have different preferences for their phonetics. Some contests run for a short time, an hour, others run for two or more days. In each contest, preparation is a big part of the experience, not just preparation of your gear, but also of yourself, your diet, sleep, fitness and the like. Depending on how seriously you take your contesting, you might find yourself in training before a big one and exchanging ideas and lessons with some of your friends. Perhaps you'll join together and run a contest station with multiple radios going at the same time, at which point you'll be learning about interference first hand. Getting started on a contest is simple, go on-line, do a search for amateur radio contests, you'll find calendars, rules, logging software, educational material, videos, documents and much more. Before you start a contest, read the rules and make sure you understand them, have a listen around the bands to get a feel for the tempo of the contest and dive in. Some terms you're going to come across are HP, or High Power, SO2R or Single Operator - 2 radios. You'll come across a concept of a multiplier, which is a scoring mechanism that often doubles your score every time you get a multiplier. For example, you might get a multiplier for each zone you work, or for each country, or for a contact on a different band. Sometimes the scores differ depending on whom you talk to on which band, sometimes it's a different score for a different distance, or more points for talking to a QRP station, so it pays to understand the rules. There are many tricks to learn, people to talk to and things to do, but the first step is to get over the mindset that contesting isn't your thing. If you have questions about contesting, drop me a line via email: vk6flab@wia.org.au I hope I've given you some food for thought. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Using Commercial Names on Air
What use is an F-call? Recently I received an email from a fellow amateur who pointed out a curious phenomenon that was being taken up by new amateurs with little purpose or necessity. He pointed out that on air some amateurs, myself included, are referring to local companies indirectly, saying things like the Green Hardware Store, the J-store and the Blue Furniture Warehouse, meaning Bunnings, Jaycar and Ikea. Gasp, horror, I've just said three company names on air. Bunnings, Jaycar and Ikea, and I did it again. The world didn't come to a sudden and laborious stop, reversed direction and made a big mess. We don't think twice about saying Yaesu, Icom, Kenwood, Elecraft and any other brand, so what's going on? As was pointed out to me, the Amateur License Conditions prohibit commercial use of the amateur bands. The people who were on the air before me were using strange constructs, so I copied them. People keep copying from what they hear and so it continues, until at some point the original person who said it in the first place, is no longer on air and their legacy continues. Sometimes this is a good thing, but in this case it's just plain silly. There's nothing preventing you from naming names, pointing people to a purchase you made, or making suggestions about where to buy a particular part or component. You're not allowed to start making a 30 second spot that starts advertising the wares of a supplier or starting to sound like Pete Smith with the Sale of the Century, but short of that, you're pretty much good to go. So, thanks for pointing this out to me, and I hope that I'm able to pass on the knowledge. I wonder what other bad habits I've already picked up in my blossoming amateur activities. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The Grey Line
What use is an F-call? Much of what Amateur Radio is about relates to the planet we live on. I realise that you might think that it's about radios, antennas, contacts and logging, but the vast majority of our hobby relates directly to the Ionosphere, the Sun, the Earth and all manner of other natural influences. One of these influences happens twice a day, Sunrise and Sunset. The transition from light to dark and from dark to light has a period during which there is twilight. This period in amateur radio is called the Grey Line, because if you were to map it on a map of the earth, there's a line that travels all the way around the globe where the separation between dark and light exists. A funny phenomenon occurs along this line. Propagation is very efficient along its path. You might recall that there are several layers of the Ionosphere. Closest to us is the D-layer, then up from that the E and F layer. You might also remember seeing satellites in the early evening, they are still in sunlight while you're in darkness. If you've flown a plane near dusk, it might have been light while you're up in the air, but dark by the time you land. Light from the sun hits different layers in the Ionosphere at different times. The D-layer doesn't get hit when it's dusk, but the E and F layers still are, they're light, while the D-layer is dark. This has the effect of allowing a 10m or 15m signal to travel through the D-layer without loosing much strength, but bouncing along happily following the E and F layer around the earth. This means that if you're on-air during this time, you'll suddenly hear stations from all over the place. This phenomenon might last no more than 10 minutes, but it's absolutely magical if you are there to hear it, and it happens twice a day! From a technical perspective, the evening grey-line works around 10m and 15m, the morning grey-line around 15m, 20m and sometimes on 40m and 80m. So turn your radio on before dusk or dawn and sit around with a warm beverage having a listen - or a coldie if the temperature is better suited to DX with a beer. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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dB, dBi, dBd
What use is an F-call? You've come across the term dB, or Decibel. Likely you've heard of dBi as well. These terms are all related to Decibels, but mean completely different things. A decibel, named after Alexander Graham Bell, is a RELATIVE measure of two different power levels, that is, one power level compared to another power level. 3dB is about twice as much power, 6db is about four times as much, and 10dB is exactly 10 times as much power. This means that you can say that a feedline has 6dB loss, that is, you need to put 20 Watt in at one end to get 5 Watt out at the other. In short, a dB is a ratio between two levels of power, in the feedline case, the power in vs. the power out the other end. In antenna land, you'll have heard dBi as the measure of the amazingness of an antenna. A dBi is a measure of gain of an antenna when compared to an ISOTROPIC source. This is a theoretical reference, that cannot actually exist in nature, but at least it's always the same, which allows you to compare two antennas to each other when their gain is both expressed in dBi. You might also come across a dBd, or antenna gain when compared with a dipole. A dipole in itself can be compared to an Isotrope. Its gain is 2.41 dBi or 0dBd. Which incidentally goes to why many antenna manufactureres play silly games with dBi and dBd. An antenna described as 24 dB should send you back to the manufacturer to ask them, 24 compared to what? If it's 24 dBi, it's compared to an isotrope, if it's 24 dBd, it's compared to a dipole. This means that there could be a 4.81 dB difference between two incorrectly named "24 dB" antennas. There's more than this, think about dBW, dBV, dBu, dBmV, dBA, dBZ and many, many more. The thing to take away is that a dB is a relative term. One compared to another. If only one's specified, you don't nessicarily know compared to what? dBi references it to an Isotrope and dBd references it to a dipole. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The Maidenhead Locator system
What use is an F-call? One of the innocuous questions you are asked during a contact is: "What is your QTH?" or: "Where are you?". Often this is followed by a whole story about a goat track and so many kilometres away from some large land-mark. If you're dealing with an experienced operator, they'll simplify that to something like: 10km North East of Tokyo. Often that's more than accurate enough, but how do you communicate a more accurate location? In this age of GPS, we've all come to know that you can express any location on earth with two numbers, a latitude and a longitude. For example, the main 2m repeater in Perth, VK6RAP is located at 32 degrees, 6 minutes and 4 seconds South, 116 degrees, 3 minutes East, or digitally, -32.100054,116.051551. That's a right royal mouthful. We could improve on that by using a different system of indicating a location. We could use something called a maidenhead locator. For VK6RAP, the locator grid square is OF87av. I'll say that again, OF87av. That's it. The whole location. Now to be fair, I should point out that the maidenhead locator I just told you is in fact a box. Any two points in a box are less than 12km apart, so that's pretty high accuracy for so few characters. We could add another couple of letters and increase the accuracy to a couple of meters, OF87AV66EA is 10 characters, same accuracy as the GPS location I gave earlier, except that was 20 characters and that's not counting south or east. In typical use, we use 6 characters for more than enough accuracy for most amateur purposes. It's pretty straight forward, break the planet down into squares, allocate a letter to each grid, break that square down, and so on. If you want the full detail on this, have a look at Wikipedia, it's all there in full glorious detail, including some example code to write your own software to do conversions. Invented in parallel by John G4ANB and Folke SM5AGM, the Maidenhead Locator System was adopted by the IARU Region 1 in 1982 and started use on January 1st, 1985. We might have been doing Amateur Radio for over a hundred years, but we're still inventing things much more recently. I'm Onno VK6FLAB, currently located at OF78wc
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The QSL system
What use is an F-call? Making a contact using your radio is one thing, starts off with someone calling CQ, someone responding, discussion ensuing and the like. If you've never had the opportunity, then get to it, get on air and make some noise. Once you've made the contact, depending on your intent, you can log the contact and even get confirmation of the contact using an out of band method, that is, some mechanism, not using radio, that confirms that on this day and time, on this frequency and mode, you spoke with the other station. This mechanism of confirming contacts is generally known as the QSL system. Originally, it was completed by exchanging cards, like postcards, between both stations. You'd use the call-book to lookup the other station's address and send off your card in the hope that the other station would do the same. In doing so, you'd confirm the contact. Today, that system still exists, it's called Direct QSL-ing. We've added some courtesy to the exchange, sending along a self-addressed envelope and money for postage, either in the form of a couple of US dollars, or alternatively, an International Reply Coupon or IRC. The basic structure is identical. In addition to that, we've added QSL bureaus, generally volunteers who offer to send cards on your behalf. You send your outgoing cards to the outbound bureau, who splits them up by country and does the same for all the other cards they receive and then forwards them on to the bureaus of those countries. Cards coming the other way will end up sent to your local QSL manager who in turn will distribute them to you by some pre-defined mechanism. If you're a member of the Wireless Institute of Australia, and in my opinion, you should be, then the QSL bureau is included in your membership fee. With the advent of the Internet, we've added electronic QSL-ing, that is, web-based services that allows you to register all your contacts and when the remote station does the same, and your contacts match, the contact is confirmed. There are as many electronic QSL systems as there are radio amateur software developers, so you'll find that there's lots to choose from. I'm currently using several, and have mixed feelings about it. If you have a good system to determine which one to use, let me know. Of course, you could just stick with cards. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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17 May - ITU day
What use is an F-call? Three times a year, on Australia Day, 26 January, Anzac Day, 25 April and ITU Day, 17 May, an Amateur in Australia may change their prefix from VK to AX, making their callsign a special event station without requiring prior permission. Australia Day and Anzac day are pretty self-explanatory, but what on earth is ITU day and why is the 17th of May significant? First of all, it's actually called the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, or WTISD, but among friends we refer to it as ITU day. So what is ITU day? Founded on the 17th of May, 1865, the ITU came into existence. We started celebrating this event in 1969 and today it's ITU day. This large organisation, the International Telecommunication Union, makes it possible for us to have concepts like Amateur Bands and makes it possible for me to call CQ on 10m and for other Hams across the world have the ability to respond. So, if you have the opportunity to operate on the 17th of May, or on Australia Day or Anzac Day, wear your heritage on your sleeve, celebrate with your AX prefix. I'm Onno VK6FLAB, or on special days, I'm also known as Onno AX6FLAB
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Amateur Radio evolution is dependent on your imagination, not your license.
What use is an F-call? Technologies come and go, some more quickly than others. Valves have been around since the 19th century, the first diode valve was developed in 1904, by John Ambrose Fleming. Despite ongoing urgings to kill them off in favour of solid state technology, they survive, much like shellac records vs mp3 files, fond tools that do their job in their own inimitable way. Some technologies become obsolete, sometimes really quickly, audio-cassettes, DAT tape and VHS are things of the past, no doubt an mp3 of the future will look nothing like what we use today. New technology happens all the time. Software Defined Radios are bringing a whole new dimension to Amateur Radio, the ability to see a whole band in real-time makes for an exciting place to make contacts and monitor a band, seeing activity, rather than just waiting to hear something on the frequency that you happen to be tuned to. In Amateur Radio this development happens because people get excited about something and run with it. Sometimes nothing comes of it, other times it's a whole new ballgame. The thing I like most about Amateur Radio is that the new and old happen simultaneously. A modern radio combined with a 1900's antenna, a Morse key attached to an SDR, using the Internet and combining it with Radio, inventing new digital modes and playing with propagation tools. All of this is within your own grasp. Your license isn't the limiting factor in any of this, it's your imagination that makes it happen. Amateur Radio, the magic between your ears. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The simple S-unit
What use is an F-call? You're 5 and 9, or 20 over 9, or 5 and 5. It's a phrase that you'll hear regularly in amateur radio conversations as you tune up and down the bands. If we ignore for a moment the readability signal, the first number, in this case "5", which I have to confess is pretty arbitrary. My perfect readability is not going to be the same as yours. The deafer I am, the less likely you're going to get a readability score of "5", lets look at the second number. It's a signal strength. Pretty straight forward. It goes from S0 to S9 and sometimes there are extra decibels added, 10 dB over, or 20 dB over, etc. The S meter in your radio is actually a very sensitive micro ammeter. The dial displays in S-units. What is an S-unit? Well, until 1981 there wasn't a real standard. In the 1930's they'd decided that S9 means 50 microvolts at the input of the receiver, but there wasn't a standard impedance of 50 Ohm, which we take for granted today, so the number is pretty meaningless in terms of power received. In 1981 they defined it as 50 microvolts at the receiver's antenna assuming an input impedance of 50 Ohm. It gets better. The S9 is actually defined as as -73 dBm or decibel milliwatts, or 50.12 pico Watts. Each S-unit is 6dBm, so S8 is -79 dBm, or 12.6 Pico Watt, S5 is 0.2 Pico Watt. If that wasn't enough to make your head explode, radios are rarely calibrated, so one radio's S9 isn't the same as the next one's, worse still, not every radio uses 6 dB per S-unit, so S8 for one radio might be 6 dB, for the next it might be 6.5 dB. And I should add that the Automatic Gain Control in a radio affects the S-meter as well. When you next tell someone that they're 5 and 9, or 20 over 9, just be mindful that it's useful as an indication of what's happening between your station and theirs, but it's not anything that you could use as a definite resource in the future. If you want to read more, there is much to find online. Word of warning. When you read more, your head will explode more, what I've talked about here is grossly simplified and I've not even looked at the actual electronics side of things! Amateur Radio, the more you dig, the more you find. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The bands change all the time...
What use is an F-call? As you gain more experience as an Amateur I've found that I spend more time listening and less time talking. I set my radio up in my car, get comfortable with a clipboard and headphones and tune up and down the dial listening for stations. I do this regularly. I've listened to the bands enough to know that each band has its own "feel", the crackle and hiss of each one slightly but distinctly different. On occasion I've had the fortune to be able to spend more than a few hours listening, scanning and attempting to add to my QRP or low power contact list. On these rare but rewarding outings I've observed something that you can only really get by experiencing it. Quite suddenly, within the space of 15 seconds or so, the band changes. The closest analogy I can come up with is to think of an out of focus camera that suddenly shows the picture in full and clear detail. It's not the same as what happens on air, but it's the best way I can describe it. When you listen to a band, you'll hear stations as you tune past. The phenomenon is not like tuning in a station, it's not like being slightly off frequency and all of a sudden getting it just right, it's more of a contrast experience, to use the light analogy. When you hear this, it's quite breath taking, sometimes it lasts for an hour, sometimes only for a few minutes, but in order to hear it, you need to actually be there. I really like how Amateur Radio can continue to surprise me. What surprises has this hobby given you of late? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Complacency in your shack.
What use is an F-call? Having been an amateur for a number of years and having participated in many outings, camp-outs, field days, public events and private portable operations, you'd think that the art of packing is something that I have down to a tee. If only it were so. Personal adventures included forgetting the little connection cable that joins the head of my radio with the body, forgetting to pack an N-type to PL259 adapter, forgetting to pack an antenna for DX operation, forgetting a log book, forgetting the power cable and I'm sure there are more things that I've forgotten. You might take away from this that I'm a forgetful person. I'm not sure that I am. I think what happens is that I become complacent. I've been mobile so many times and I've had to pack my gear for each outing, that I think that I've got it all. This complacency sneaks into other aspects of the hobby also. I participate in a weekly net from my home, also known as my QTH, where I use the same radio, plugged into the same aerial, the same power supply on the same shelf next to my desk. You'd think that with all that sameness, nothing would change. If only it were so. Connectors wander around, because they get disconnected after each net, so there is no fixed installation. The coax is subject to the weather, the power supply is sometimes used for other outings. So, what do you do with all of this? The gear we use is pretty costly, pretty fragile and subject to letting out the white smoke if you were to cross the polarities of power, or short out the antenna. So, treat each activation as a separate event. Go through the whole kit in your mind before you drive off and if you're setting up your radio, make sure that each aspect of your radio operation is as expected. Complacency can be an expensive mistake. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Wear your callsign with pride!
What use is an F-call? Having a call sign is a personal identity. For some, much thought has gone into the combination of letters, for others, like myself, it was assigned randomly. The letters that make up your call sign conform to specific requirements. The first part of the call, the prefix is the country and state identifier. In my case, VK6 means Western Australia. The rest of the call, the suffix, follows rules as well. The foundation license has four letters and starts with the letter F, followed by three letters, making up what is often referred to as the F-call. If you have a standard license, the suffix is three letters, of which the first letter is a H, L, M, N, P or V. The letter R is reserved for Beacons and Repeaters. The advanced license has either two or three letters and uses the remaining letters. So with that information you can figure out what license class a station can operate under when you hear a call sign on air. If you're a holder of an advanced license, you can choose to start your suffix with the letter F, and in doing so, you'll become a member of the F-call club. A select group of fine fiery individuals fascinated with Amateur Radio, the fun of the hobby, the furthering of their education, and proud to be an Amateur - hi hi! So, If your prefix starts with the letter F, welcome to the club! I mused what my callsign might be when I upgrade. I think I'll move to New South Wales and have a chat with Fred. He's VK2FSP, that sounds like a nice callsign to have. VK2, F-call Special Person. I'm sure he'll share. On the other hand, that would require that I move to VK2. Perhaps there are other alternatives! Your call, wear it with pride - F or otherwise! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Two nets to get started on air.
What use is an F-call? If you've had a license for a while it becomes harder to remember what it was like just after you received it. Fortunately I get to speak with new comers to the hobby on a regular basis, so my memory of my own experience gets refreshed regularly. Getting on air is as simple as getting a radio, right? I've talked about the process of purchasing a radio in the past, and while it's important, I'll skip past that step today and look at what else needs to happen. There is an assumption that your radio works, that you have an antenna and that you've got it all set-up and working. I realise that this in itself is not a trivial process, but all the puzzle pieces need to be there for this Amateur Radio magic to actually happen. Getting on air is simple, press the push to talk and open your mouth, right? If you have a VHF or UHF radio, the likely spot where you'll do that is a local repeater, a place that will over time attract other Amateurs who use it to talk to each other, to get in touch and to keep track of the community. The local repeater is also likely to host the national amateur news and if you're lucky a local version of the news as well. Note that not all repeaters have the news, so you might need to pick a repeater that's not right next door. In some locations there are conversations after the news, in others there are regular nets where you can go on air and talk. I host with several able and dragooned helpers a weekly net called F-troop. It runs from 0:00 UTC for an hour every Saturday morning, specifically for new and returned hams, and if you're in VK6, you can hear it on the local VK6RAP repeater, outside of there, you can connect to IRLP node 9558 or Echolink conference *VK3JED*. And yes, as a foundation licensee, you are allowed to use IRLP and Echolink. If you have a HF radio, you can also find news broadcasts, regular nets and discussions and all manner of activity. A regular net which will put you in contact with Amateurs from around Australia and New Zealand and beyond is the 7130 DX net. It's held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 0930 UTC for a couple of hours. During that net you'll be able to check in and make contacts. Bring pen and paper and keep track of all the call-signs you hear, add in the operator name as you hear it, write down the signal report when you hear the station and you'll have lots of fun. Those two nets, F-troop and the 7130 DX net are the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of nets around. You'll find some of them listed online at vk6.net. So, get on air, get listening and participate! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Amateur Radio is Everywhere
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio is everywhere, sometimes in surprising places. You might recall that a while ago I mentioned that I was looking into space communications, specifically I was interested in the communications coming from the Voyager probes. In 2006 a group of AMSAT-DL Amateurs in Germany used a 20m dish at Bochum to track and receive data from Voyager 1. In case you're wondering, that transmission was on 8.415 GHz, so not something you might achieve with your hand-held, unless you build a transverter in your spare time. Closer to home in time, ISEE-3, or currently known as the International Cometary Explorer ICE will be visiting Earth on its heliocentric orbit in August 2014. It's using two 5 Watt S-band transponders and NASA cannot talk to it any more because the equipment that was part of the Deep Space Network that was able to, was decommissioned in 1999. If you're interested, you can have a go, in fact, all the specifications are published online, and if you're curious, AMSAT-DL has again risen to the task and achieved contact. Perhaps we need to go and have a chat with the folks at the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum. They have a spare dish just waiting for a purpose. Amateur Radio, it's everywhere. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Contesting, a simulator of harsh conditions.
What use is an F-call? As you might know, I'm a great fan of contesting. I know that you may think that this is not for you and I respect that, but I'd like to share why I think contesting is a fantastic way to learn about operating in difficult conditions. If you're an athlete, you try and expose yourself to different environments, you subject yourself to harsh weather, adverse conditions, strong competition, as much as you can, so when you actually compete, you'll be prepared. We like to think of Amateur Radio as a hobby, that in case of emergency is able to step in and help out. It's true, Amateurs have been helping in emergencies for a century, it's one of the conditions of your licence, it's a given that this is something that you need to know about. We do portable field days, we test our kit in field conditions with batteries, temporary antennas, weather and other non-standard environments. Sometimes we even do a contest and get extra points for portable operation. That's all well and good, but contesting in itself is also a test of adverse conditions. The bands are crowded with traffic, there is lots of noise around, interference is rife, the pace is high, adrenaline is rushing and it's a wonderful playground for education. I know that contesters are out to win their contest. I do that, because I've been bitten by the bug, but that's not the only aspect of a contest. If you're a pilot, you use simulators to learn about surprises. As an Amateur, you can use a contest as a simulator of the bands, so when you're in an emergency situation and every letter counts, you're equipped to deal with it. Contesting, it's a way to train yourself for free. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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If you don't try, you're guaranteed to fail!
What use is an F-call? Recently there was a contest that looked interesting. I participate in contests as a way to speak to many stations, to add countries to my DX list and to learn about how other people run their station. It's a great opportunity to have access to a large number of stations in a short period of time. As part of my preparation for this particular contest, I spent some time reading the rules, so that when I got on air, I'd know what to expect as the exchange, what the other station would say and what they expected in return, to learn what the point scoring system was and what I could expect during the contest. The points were allocated in such a way that contacts were only scored between me and the country that originated the contest, in this case, if I made a contact with a station in Canada or the United States, there'd be a point to be made, but if I made a contact with Venezuela, or with Kenya, or the United Arab Emirates, there'd be no points. Just so I'm not mistaken, this is not about me making points, its about the desirability of people making contact with me. If there is no incentive for a station outside Canada or the USA to make contact with me, because there's no points to be had, there would be no chance of me talking to anyone other than Canada and the United States. So far, I've made two contacts with the USA, one several years ago, 10 Watts - Squid Pole at the ocean to Portland Oregon. One more recently with Austin Texas, with 5 Watts on a tri-element beam. Both those contacts were completely out of the blue, the latter hard work - especially on the part of the other station. The short of it is that as a result, I didn't actually turn on my radio to try to make contacts. To bring home the error of my ways, I was presented with a video made by Peter, VK3YE who used a delta-loop and his 817 to make many contacts with the USA. Of course, he's in VK3 and I'm in VK6, he was on the ocean and I'm at a lake, but even those differences wouldn't have prevented me from making contacts. Inexperienced as I am, I chose not to operate. What a mistake, propagation was great, activity level was high, contacts were there for the taking. Lesson learnt, if you don't try, you're guaranteed to fail. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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As you get more experienced, you'll transmit less...
What use is an F-call? When you first start as an Amateur, you get on air, you have a wander up and down the bands and you have access to so many frequencies that you don't know where to start. If you talk to other Amateurs you'll learn that the bands have more and lesser levels of activity at different parts of the band. For example, the 10m band SSB runs from 28.3 until 29.1, a wide range to play in. When you play around longer you'll notice that most of the activity is around 28.5. Of course as contests hit the airwaves, you'll find the band full of people all over the place, but normally on a day-to-day basis, you'll find them clustered around various frequencies. As you start, you're likely to start calling CQ. As an F-call with low power this can be rewarding, but only for the very lucky and patient. More success happens if you find yourself on or around QRP calling frequencies, but overall, if you're like me, you're likely to spend less time calling CQ. After a while I found myself hunting for strong stations and calling my callsign when they asked for it. That is, strong stations calling CQ or CQ DX. Initially, I'd find a strong station and call back. I'd spend quite a bit of time doing that, sometimes making a contact, often giving up in frustration. I'm learning as time goes by that I spend more time listening and less time calling. This is a good thing, for your voice, for your battery and for the bands. What I'm now doing is locating strong stations and listening to their QSOs. If you hear a station 5/9 and they tell the other station they're talking to that they're running 2 kW, you're unlikely to be able to get to them. It's not impossible, just not probable. If on the other hand you hear a station saying that they're running 100 Watt, you're much more likely to talk to them if they're 5/9 at your station. The more you listen, the more you're going to hear rude and silly behaviour, calling partial calls indiscriminately, tuning up on the calling frequency, asking for the DX station's callsign, you name it, I've heard it all. My observation is that the more experienced you are, the less you'll transmit and the more you'll listen. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Talk to your fellow amateurs, build a choke.
What use is an F-call? During the week I was spending a little time with an experienced amateur and I lamented that getting ferrite cores locally was a trial in futility. I'd spent hours attempting to find a reliable supplier and as of yet have not actually succeeded. I want to experiment with ferrite cores to build some antennas and to test different balun designs, seeing that the Internet is full of them, each with different opinions on what is good and bad, what works best and how to magically make something work with a balun. Of course I can read all I want, but actually getting your hands dirty is generally a better way to get a feel for what happens and what's needed. It was suggested that I could make an equivalent solution, creating a choke using coax cable, 6 inches, 6 windings was the suggestion. Since then I've also found 4 and 4 and 8 and 8 and other variations. I should note that I've not yet built one with all the other distractions in my life, but I'm feeling much less worried about locating a ferrite and much more confident that such a choke might get me what I need, the ability to build a dipole and string it up without RF coming back into my shack - which currently is my car. What this taught me is that the Internet is full of wonderful suggestions, but just chewing the fat with someone who's been around the block a couple of times will give you some hands on experience, which might get you to the next step of your understanding of Amateur Radio. So, talk to your fellow amateurs, buy them a coffee and see what they have to say. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Be Curious!
What use is an F-call? Curiosity is a wonderful attribute to have. While sometimes it kills cats, amateurs are better off using curiosity to learn new skills. Recently I had the opportunity to discuss in detail the differences between two radios which I thought I knew intimately, a Yaesu 857D which I own and a Yaesu 817ND, which a friend owned and until then I thought I knew just as well. Not so. We discussed in detail what the differences between these radios were from a functionality perspective and from a user experience angle. It's not the first time I've looked from my radio to that of a fellow amateur. I've looked at other brands, other models, other installations, even of the same radio, and each time I come away having learnt a little more about their set-up and often in passing I learn a little about my own gear. While you're likely to have a fair share of Holden vs. Ford type discussions, often it's simple to get beyond that by asking the other person what it was that decided for them to acquire their particular radio. Often times their selection criteria are completely different from your own which gives you insight into alternative aspects of amateur radio. So, ask away, be curious, learn. Before you know it you'll feel right at home in the debate between Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, Elecraft and several other manufacturers of radio equipment. One tip. "My radio is better than your radio." is sure to get people all riled up, so perhaps ask them why theirs is better than yours. Who knows, you might even find out that they're jealous of your gear. Be curious, lots to learn. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Special Event Stations
What use is an F-call? Over the past few months I've had the opportunity to operate several special event calls commemorating or celebrating several different activities, from anniversaries to special one-off events, all with the aim to get on air and make some contacts. Making contacts is a pretty straight forward affair. It's exactly the same as making contacts with your own callsign with one notable difference, logging or the making a record of the time, band and mode of a contact. As everything in Amateur Radio, there is a multitude of solutions to be had, from logging on paper, to logging in special books, to logging on a computer using a variety of software, through to automatic logging. Each has their benefits and hindrances. Logging is an activity that is used for a range of activities, so some solutions are catered specifically to those activities, from making casual contacts through to keeping track of which countries you've worked, operating in a competition or operating a DXpedition. This means that you need to consider and balance a number of different things, like learning curve, functionality for your intended purpose and in the case of a special event station, the ability to export the logs into different formats. There is no one-solution-fits-all, despite the protestations from ardent fans of their particular chosen solution, so try a few and see what works best for you. Once you've worked the special event call, the real work begins, exporting the data, designing QSL cards, printing out the contacts, or exporting them to online logs, or both, and sending the cards off to their destination. Any licensed amateur can operate a special event station. I'd encourage you to use the opportunity if it presents itself, there is lots to learn and a lot of fun to be had. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Curiosity if a great thing!
What use is an F-call? During the week I had the opportunity to work a rare DX-station using the antenna farm of one of the clubs I'm a member of. The 10m, 6 element beam at a height of about 10m or so worked great with my radio and the contact was made within a couple of minutes. I then got the idea to try a different antenna, a friend has a 10m, 5 element beam in storage in his shed. We went to a local lake, put the beam together and strapped it to a 3m mast and guyed the contraption with some rope. Using the Arm-Strong rotator, we managed to pick up the same DX station and made another contact. Both contacts were done with 5 Watts SSB, using my 857d and a battery. The second set-up was on a grassed area, the car was parked under a Morton Bay Fig tree, nice and shady, with little local interference, except that all of a sudden, around 3:30pm, we found ourselves surrounded by mothers and children. Turns out that there was a local school, not 200m from our location. Wide-eyed children plucked up the courage, or their mothers did, and came up to ask what we were up to. A picture is worth a thousand words, so we turned up the radio volume and listened to stations around the world. Curiosity is a great thing and several mothers recommended we contact the school to do some demonstrations there. It's now on my to do list. Wonderful talking to curious minds, talking about skipping stones on the water, radio waves, the Internet, the sun and the ionosphere, there should be more of it. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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F-calls and computers...
What use is an F-call? Last week I talked about computers and the Foundation License. There is a blanket perception being perpetuated that computers, radios and your Foundation License don't mix, are not allowed and if you were to be so foolhardy as to connect your computer to your radio, you'd be subject to all manner of retribution from the ACMA. Most of this is based on hear-say and misunderstanding. There's nothing stopping you from connecting your computer to your radio and for example have it read the current frequency and mode and store that in your logging software. There's also nothing wrong with using the computer to change the frequency and mode on your radio, when you click on a DX cluster entry and it changes the settings on your radio, or if you were to use it to deal with the Doppler shift to match an overflying satellite. Computers can also be used to set-up memories, CTCSS codes, preferences and other settings supported by your radio. It can be used to show waterfall displays and to decode signals as they come in. You can use a computer to do audio filtering, digital signal processing and all manner of CPU intensive activities. You can run a CW skimmer, to decode Morse as it comes past, connect it to a wide-band receiver and listen to many frequencies at once. None of this has anything to do with your Foundation License restrictions, or with the LCD for that matter. Onto other things. The LCD states that: "if the emission mode is 200HA1A (or 200 Hertz, Amplitude Modulated, Single Channel, Telegraphy for aural reception - i.e. Morse Code or CW), the information to be transmitted is sent by the use of a manually operated Morse key;" This is stopping you from using your license to send out an automatic beacon. The aim is to have you as a human, still in the loop. A manually operated Morse key means that you have to actually push it with your hand. There's nothing preventing you from using an Iambic Paddle mechanical, or electronic. As long as you're still punching out the code. With the advent of Software Defined Radios, the separation between computer and radio is becoming even more diffuse. If your radio is a computer, another myth does the rounds. "A Foundation Call cannot use Software Defined Radio." This is untrue. If your SDR was manufactured commercially then you're good to go. Seriously. You still have the same restrictions on modes and bands, power output and the like. You cannot send computer generated digital modes, though you can decode them. The computer in this equation is no different from the previous examples. Being an F-call is fun, you should try it sometime. I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
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F-calls and their restrictions.
What use is an F-call? The Amateur Foundation License in Australia has a range of obligations and restrictions that differentiate it from the other Amateur Licenses. The most visible of those is a limit on power of 10 Watts, the bands that are allowed, 80m, 40m, 15m, 10m, 2m and 70cm. Another restriction is related to the use of a computer and your radio. The interpretation is often made along the lines of: "You cannot use a computer connected to your radio." ... and that's simply not the case. The current LCD, as of January 2014, says: "The licensee [..] must not operate an amateur station using automatic mode or computer controlled mode." And it says: "The licensee [..] must not operate an amateur station that is directly connected to a public telecommunications network. It adds in italics a note: "An amateur foundation station may be indirectly connected to a public communications network through a gateway operated by another licensee." This means that you can use your radio to connect to Echolink and IRLP, both Internet based radio technologies. What you cannot do is run an Echolink node on your computer, connect the computer to the radio and have incoming connections activated by somebody over the Internet. You cannot do this, not because it's a public telecommunications network, more on that in a moment, but because the computer is controlling the radio without your input, which you're not permitted to do. Now, the public telecommunications network part. I know that some of you are already spluttering, but, but, but. The amateur station isn't directly connected to a public telecommunications network. It's connected to a computer, which in turn is connected to a network, which in turn is connected to the Internet. This restriction isn't about the Internet, it's about connecting an Amateur Radio to the telephone network, about having someone ring a phone number and the audio that comes in, be sent out over the air on your radio. It's about ensuring that only appropriately licensed persons access the station to transmit. It's an example of how regulation and invention are often not in sync. Another point. APRS, Automatic Packet Reporting System, is a way to use Amateur Radio to transfer packets of information to people who want it. For example, it can be used to report a GPS location, the state of a battery at a repeater site, the read switch on a security door, what ever you can dream up. As a Foundation Licensee, you cannot use the digital mode to send packets using your radio, but nothing prevents you from using APRS on your phone. This has nothing to do with your Amateur License or with the ACMA. It's a system built and used by Amateurs, but if you're not using your radio, you're good to go. Also, there's nothing stopping you from listening to packet radio. You might even pick up an ArduSat or two and help out school science in the process. Other modes you might look at are PSK31, RTTY, JT65, WSPR. The sky is the limit when you listen. Go forth and have fun. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Bullies have no place in Amateur Radio
What use is an F-call? Nobody works in isolation, and neither do I. This weekly segment has now been running for 130 or so episodes and in that time I've received a variety of feedback about my attempt at making a contribution to Amateur Radio. I remember when a random stranger walked up to me when I attended the WIA Mildura conference in 2012. He told me that he used my segment in training new F-calls and that he was most impressed. Last week, another random member of the HAM community told me that this segment made him return to Amateur Radio and upgrade his license. I've received cards and unexpected Christmas gifts, emails, phone-calls and other amazing acts of generosity which leave me quite at a loss for words. Thank you. On the other end of the spectrum, an anonymous group of our community uses web-forms to write all manner of interesting comments. Let me quote verbatim one of the tamer ones: "When is Onno going to upgrade to Standard or Advanced licence and get rid of his awful callsign. He is an embarrassment to the fine hobby." This person claims to listen to the news every week, but clearly hasn't actually heard a word I've said. My callsign was randomly assigned by the ACMA and I'll be upgrading when I've achieved my QRP DXCC. As I said, this was one of the tamer responses. It's been a continuing feast ever since I got my license. I'm no shrinking violet and if you know me at all, I tend to tell it as I see it. What concerns me is that this is the feedback I'm getting. I've spoken to probably over a hundred F-calls since I received my license and the theme is a recurring one. There's bullying, abuse, swearing, accusations, active interference, emails, letters and other nastiness that this part of the hobby seems to think is appropriate to share and it's not just happening here in my state. I've had reports from all over the country. Speaking directly to those miscreants is a waste of breath, but I know that they are surrounded by people who disagree, because I speak to them on a regular basis. I'd encourage you to take these bullies to task, either in the public forum in which they spread their bile, or directly and face-to-face if that's more your style. There is no place for this. F-calls are here to stay, just like Novice calls were in a previous life and what ever the next minority was before that. One observation that fills me with great joy. Soon there will be more F-calls than all other licenses combined. At that point there will be more of us than there are of them. In case there is a potential for misunderstanding. I support the ability for an F-call to upgrade. I will upgrade at a time of my choosing. That doesn't mean that everyone will or should feel compelled to do so. Got a problem with this, let me know, publicly. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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What is listening 10-up?
What use is an F-call? In passing a few weeks ago I mentioned listening 10-up. It's also a slogan I have on a t-shirt, it says: "I'm not ignoring you, I'm listening 10 up." So what does that mean and what do you do when a station tells you that they are listening "up", or "down"? If you're a DX station and you've got a desirable call, it's likely that you'll generate a pile-up, that is, lots of different stations all calling at the same time, trying to get the attention of the single DX station. As more and more stations join in the fray, the remote station will get drowned out by eager hunters who try to call early, or try to call late in an attempt to get the attention of the DX station. The impact of this is cumulative. Over time, the DX station will get buried entirely in spurious transmissions, so making a contact becomes harder and harder, sometimes impossible. I've talked about the rhythm of a contact. If it's all working as expected, the rhythm will help you synchronise your call with that of the remote DX, similarly, all the other stations on frequency will march to the same drum beat. Sometimes this just becomes too hard and a DX station might solve the problem by "operating split". In essence, the station operates two frequencies, their calling frequency, which is where you can hear the station, and their listening frequency, which is where everyone else is calling and the DX station is listening. This makes it possible for the drum beat to continue and for the DX station to not be drowned out. So, how do you do this? On many modern radios you'll have access to two VFOs, you tune one, VFO A, to the DX calling frequency, the other, VFO B, to the DX listening frequency. You'll push the "split operation" button and when you listen, you're listening to VFO A frequency and when you're transmitting you're doing that on the VFO B frequency. A station will announce this by saying something like "listening 10 up", or "2 up", what ever they pick. During contests this is generally frowned on, since it ties up two frequencies, but during normal day-to-day operations it's another tool to make HF contacts possible. I'm not Ignoring you, I'm listening 10-up. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Making HF contacts...
What use is an F-call? There are many different ways that you can make contacts using HF. Over the past weeks I've talked about picking your band and frequency, about matching the rhythm of the other station, about setting up next to a big station, about picking and choosing, rather than sitting on one frequency calling CQ. Another technique you can use to make contacts is to listen for local stations, to hear whom they're talking to and at the end of their QSO with a distant station, which you must also be able to hear, otherwise it just defeats the purpose, asking for a QSO with the same remote station. It's likely that the local station will hear you much louder than the remote station and many locals will help you out with the contact. Don't expect them to help, they're having fun, just like you, but be gracious when they do help. In this Internet connected world of impersonal email, it's easy to slip into the same mindset, anonymous communication, but the Amateur Radio community is small. You're likely to meet the Amateur you thanked last week face to face at the local Hamfest, so be mindful of that. Of course there are going to be people on air who don't float your boat. Don't antagonise them, there is no point. I know it's hard when another station, sometimes deliberately, interferes with you, but it's more sporting to move on, rather than get involved in a tit-for-tat exchange. Keep in mind that this is a hobby, a fun pursuit, not a live or die competition, so act accordingly. In all I've found the Amateur community to be extremely welcoming and friendly, so don't let a few bad experiences colour your hobby. HF can be hard work, but I have to tell you, I've found myself jumping around the room when I made a difficult contact. I've looked at my radio in disbelief when an elusive station stops their pile-up, just to talk to you. What a thrill! So, get on air, do it today. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Making HF contacts...
What use is an F-call? Making contacts on HF is a challenge. Over the past few weeks I've talked about some of the things you can do to make your HF life simpler. At no time have I advocated sitting on a frequency calling CQ. You could do that if you liked, but there are times and places to be more successful in that endeavour also. If you feel the need to call CQ, then pick a frequency that'll be visited by others. Make sure you're not at the end of the band where no-one goes, rather pick a spot next to another big fish. Leave a gap and set up shop next door. Think of it as fishing with bait. The big station is the bait, you're the little minnow on the side, easy to pick off if you're heard, ignored if not. The nice thing about being next to a big station is that people are slowing down to hear it and in doing so might also hear you, which of course is the aim of the game. If I look back at the contacts I've made so far, calling CQ is the least effective way of making a contact. It's not a waste of time, but there are better ways. Searching and Pouncing, that is finding and getting a station, one at a time, is much more effective. Use the tools at your disposal. Rotate your antenna if you have a rotator, tune slowly, and look around. Stations are often in a QSO with another station, so you might not hear both sides of the discussion. You might tune past when the station you cannot hear is talking, so you'll never know that there is a big loud station on the same frequency. Sometimes you hear a loud station, but it's a station responding to a CQ request. If that's the case, set up shop next door and call them as soon as their QSO is finished, you'll pick up weird and wonderful stations along the way. If you hear a station that is just too far away, have a go anyway. You don't know what their conditions are like, for all you know they have a very quiet QTH and can hear the proverbial mosquito fart. There are many failures in HF communications, making the successes all the sweeter. Have a crack! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Making HF contacts...
What use is an F-call? I recently talked about making contact with a station on HF. Getting a feel for the other station is very important because it will make you understand when the other person is listening and when they're not. It will let you know to what kind of station they're responding to, and when they do respond, how they respond. I recently made a contact with T33A. I used 5 Watts on a rotatable dipole, 15m. I listened to the station for a good 10 minutes before I made my first call. They gave me lots of information about the contact long before I opened my mouth. It was one of the last days they were operating and it was bedlam on the frequency, lots of stations wanting to make this contact. The station told me that they were listening 10 up, so I configured my radio to deal with that. Then I worked out what the rhythm of the operator was, got a feel for how they replied and when I was ready, I called my callsign. I was floored that they came back with "the VK6 QRP station" on my first call. It took two goes to get my callsign across, but the contact was made there and then. Making such a contact is as much about the ability of the remote station to pick you out, as it is about improving your chances of success. It's about picking your moment, getting it just right, so that when you call, it all happens in the blink of an eye. Picking your moment is also about understanding that some people just don't want to talk to you. Two people who are talking to each other might do that every day and are really not interested in talking to you. Picking the group or the 'net where to call-in is crucial to your success on HF. Look at the 7130 DX net. It runs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9:30 UTC. It's aim is to facilitate making DX contacts between amateurs. When you tune to 7.130, get out a piece of paper and write down all the stations you hear, write down what signal strength they are and what the operators name is. The net hosts will call for new stations for the 'net on a regular basis. They'll acknowledge you and continue seeking other stations. Once they have a bunch, they'll ask which stations want to make a call. Hold off for a couple of rounds and listen. Stations will announce their callsign and the host will take a list. Each station is called in turn and invited to make a QSO or two with another station. If it's busy, they might do one QSO per station. Once they're done, the next station gets a chance and so on. It's a fantastic way to meet other DX-stations and make your first overseas call. Making contacts on HF is hard work, fun and amazingly rewarding. Have a go! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Making HF contacts...
What use is an F-call? Recently I talked about making contacts on HF. Picking the band, the time of day, the right location on the band and looking for a nice loud station are part of the equation, but there are other considerations to be had. If you consider a station transmitting with 1.5 kilowatt on a 5 element Yagi and you're at home with your radio, you tune around and you find this station to be the loudest on the band, you're likely to try to talk to them. Sometimes this even works. However, many times, in fact, most of the time, this is pretty hard to do for a number of reasons. The first reason that this is hard is because their strength is a combination of lots of power and lots of antenna gain. If you transmit back, the only thing going for you is their antenna gain, but their power will likely distort your perception of how well they'll hear you. If you find a station that tells someone else that they're running high power, then make sure that their signal to you is banging the S-meter against the wall, that is 10 or 20 db over 9, before you spend hours trying to get their attention. I should point out that there are plenty of amazing operators who will pick out your tiny signal among the hash and call you back but there are many more who to put it kindly are deaf as a post, who expect HF to sound like a 2m FM repeater and set up their kit to make it so. You're unlikely to ever succeed in making contact with the latter, but you'll be thrilled when you deal with the former. Another aspect making it hard to talk to such a loud station is that everyone else also hears it very loud and will also call in. This will completely drown your signal at their end, so you're unlikely to cut through. There are some amateurs who swear by changing their microphone response to "cut through", or to fiddle with other aspects of their transmission, but I've got to say that this lacks finesse and that's what really is required. Imagine that you're at the other end. Your aim is to make as many contacts as possible with weird and wonderful stations. Living in Australia makes your callsign pretty sought after, so use that to your advantage. When you're on a roll, you don't want to break the rhythm, so, listen for a few overs to see what is going on. Does the station always end their QSO in the same way, or is it different each time? Write down the information that you pick up from the station, where they are, who the operator is, lots of little details will make the contact go smoothly. Make sure that you have their callsign correct, check it again before you call. Also, write down the frequency on which the station is operating. If they spend a little while talking to each station, you can go hunting for another station and come back to check their progress. When you do call, try to speak in the rhythm of the other station. If they're fast, speak fast. If they're slow, speak slow. Figure out when they're likely to key their mike and when they'll release it. Find breaks in the pauses and use those to put your callsign out. Only call once per over, many stations will ignore you if you don't. Make sure that you just say your callsign, not theirs, not while you're getting their attention. There is more on this topic to share, but listen to the other station and get a feel for the person at the other end. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Making HF contacts...
What use is an F-call? I've heard it expressed that working on HF using an F-call is hard graft. No-one hears you, they don't talk to you, they ignore you, nothing works, it's all too hard. I've heard F-calls tell me that they've called CQ for hours and no-one wants to play. I understand that HF is challenging, but it's not impossible. There are a number of things going on that make that a HF contact requires more effort than talking on a 2m repeater. Making contacts on HF requires that you understand what's going on, that some of the things that you're thinking are likely not true and some of your expectations are wrong. I'm not the oracle of amateur radio, that would be a sorry state of affairs, but I can share some of the things I've learnt. Finding someone to talk to on-air is the simplest way to make a contact. That is, you scan up and down the bands, nice and slowly, to find a station that's nice and loud. If they're not moving your S-meter, it's unlikely that you're going to move theirs, or even make yourself heard above the noise at their end. So, at least initially, look for a station with a 5/8 readability. If you're not ever getting any of those then I'd spend some time having a look at the antenna you're using. The more you listen on bands, the more you'll get a feel for when things happen on a particular band, and where. The 10m band runs from 28MHz all the way past 29 MHz, but you're not often going to find lots of activity at 28.7, so have a look at a DX Cluster Online and see where people "hang-out", spend more time there than in the fringes of a band. That's not to say that no-one is ever on 28.7, just that you'll find more people more often between 28.4 and 28.5. Also, if you cannot hear any noise on a band it could be that the band is closed, or it could be that it's wide open and no-one is playing because they're all scanning up and down the band waiting for someone to call. So, sometimes its worth your while to call CQ a couple of times to see what, if any response, you might get. There are other aspects to making a contact on HF and I'll talk about those at another time, but don't give up. I've lost count of the number of times I've packed my radio into my car, set-up at some location, got my logging gear out and then spent three hours getting nothing. Similarly, I've lost count of the times that I turned on my radio by chance, scanned up and down the dial, found a station, called back and made a contact. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The general public knows nothing about Amateur Radio...
What use is an F-call? For most of us Amateur Radio is a hobby. It might not be your only one, but if your time allocation is anything like mine, this one seems to grow in its scope and reach every day. During the week I was talking to a friend who had no idea about Amateur Radio, no notion, other than: "Isn't that the Ham Radio thing that did Morse and has been superseded by the Internet?" she asked. That was a pretty loaded question, but I pointed at recent natural disasters where radio amateurs acted as the local back-bone, the glue that makes it possible for information to travel great distance when all other services are gone, no roads, no phones, no nothing. Of course as an Amateur you already know this, but it seems that the general public has no idea what so ever. I pointed out that even the most basic license helped me understand antennas, know when a TV antenna is pointing in the wrong direction and why, know how to make an indoor Wi-Fi connection work better, and best of all, it keeps challenging me into learning new things. I mentioned that for a radio connection to work, two devices are required, my radio and their radio. Compare and contrast this with an Internet connection, or a mobile phone connection which requires many different devices, all of which must work. I'm sure I've talked about this phenomenon before, but somehow every time I bump into someone who doesn't know about Amateur Radio, I get surprised all over again. In case you're wondering, my hand is looking better, stitches are out, skin is pink, now all I need is some common sense .. wonder where I can find that. What kind of things take you by surprise? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Silliness is everywhere...
What use is an F-call? Last week I shared my personal close encounter with a drill. If you missed it, the experience contained a particular act of stupidity on my part. So much so that I still cannot reconstruct in my mind which part of it I ever thought was a good idea. Walking around and sharing my silliness seemed to encourage others to share their own acts of foolhardiness, from holding an avocado in the left hand and prying the pit from the centre with a sharp knife, through using a chisel that managed to damage a large part of someone's thumb, with nails no longer growing properly, through to using a drill in the webbing of a hand, chopping off parts of people's anatomy, getting rings caught, you name it, I've heard so many first hand stories that frankly boggle the mind. Apart from resisting the urge to write down each of these stories, I found myself looking for a common denominator, mostly it turns out to be impatience. With that newly learnt lesson, I picked up my drill with a different eye this week. Of course when you're building things, often time it doesn't quite go as planned, but I noticed that once I started to become impatient with what ever was going on, I stopped what I was doing, took a breath, and had another look. I bought a vice, adding an essential tool to the mix and I hope that my new radar for impatience will stand me in good stead once I get myself into another pickle. Silliness is clearly not something new, it's everywhere. When was the last time you did something really silly? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Don't be a doofus, be safe.
What use is an F-call? Real Hams have an RF burn scar. That's a signature from one of my Amateur friends. To that I can now add from personal experience, "or a drill hole." It all began innocently enough. I'm still looking for that elusive indoor antenna, something that will at least get me on air while I'm at home, something that doesn't spark the ire of my non-amateur neighbours, something that doesn't cost the earth and preferably something that will be portable enough to move around, pack up and bring to a field day when that opportunity arises. So, in my grand plan I came on the notion of using a $5 hula hoop to make a hula hoop loop. Suffice to say that I'm not the first amateur to try this, but I'm determined to have a go. I'm going to wind a hula hoop with helical windings, all the way around, and attach the contraption to my SG237 Antenna Coupler. Something else I learnt, my SGC Smartuner really is an antenna coupler. It becomes part of the antenna, which is why it needs to live close to the antenna. I spent one sleepless morning reading all about basically tuning up many and varied lengths of wire in different shapes and figured that a hula hoop would have lots of shape, be light, cheap and if I wind it helically, hold a whole lot of wire length. The jury on that is still out, because I was drilling a hole in a piece of steel that I was going to use to clamp the hoop to a tripod I have. I needed a 12mm hole, so picked up the appropriate drill-bit, drilled my hole, but the last two burrs just wouldn't give up. I don't have a vice in my workshop, which hints at what happened next. I managed to defy logic and drilled into my left hand - not on purpose, but demonstrably not smart. 2 stitches and $196 dollars later, I also learnt that my local GP has a good stitching hand, so there's that... Several lessons come from this: 1. Use the right tools. 2. Don't be impatient. 3. Scars are for life. 4. This is a hobby, not an exercise in self-harm. So, don't do what I just did, be safe, no RF burn scars, no drill holes, take your time and don't be a tool. I'll let you know when it heals how my antenna build goes. I'm doofus Onno, VK6FLAB
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ClubLog.org
What use is an F-call? Over the past two years I've talked about amateur radio resources on the Internet, sometimes referring to one or other web-site in passing, encouraging you to find information that is pertinent to your situation. Last week I talked about logging and discussed some of the issues you'll come across. One of the things you'll likely want to do, is to actually put your logs online to make it possible for others to do the same and in doing so, matching up your contact with theirs and thus validating the contact. When you start investigating this, you'll find that there are many different sites that offer this service, from Logbook Of the World, or LoTW which is maintained by the ARRL, through QRZ.com, eqsl.cc and many others. Before I start talking about one specific site today, I thought I'd point out that you'll quickly find out that your chosen online log isn't going to be the same as the station you just contacted 15,000 km away, so in this case, at least at the moment, the more you register with, the higher your chances of having your contacts confirmed. One such service is Club Log, located at clublog.org. It has a very clean interface, offers log matching, a DX cluster that indicates stations in countries that you don't yet have, league tables and other amazing tools. One such tool deals with Propagation. It uses actual contacts from all the logs submitted to determine the best time to be on air to get contacts between two stations, what band, what directions, etc. All built-in with the aim to help you make the next contact. It's the best tool I've found so far that helps you get actual results, rather than propagation forecasts, it was the tool I used to let you know recently that the best chance of making a contact is on the weekend, Saturday, Sunday, then Friday, in order of decreasing amounts of traffic. Of course, that's not to say you won't get amazing contacts on other days, I spoke with Marion Island on a Monday afternoon one day, so you really can't beat being on-air. The service is free, though donations are encouraged and every time you upload a log file, the upload is brought to you by another donating amateur, so good will all round. I know that there are other aspects to Club Log that I've not discussed, or am even aware of, but if you're going to start somewhere, you won't do worse than starting there. clublog.org, check it out. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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QSL - Online Logging
What use is an F-call? One of the many projects I'm dealing with as a result of attempting to achieve contacting 100 different countries using only 5 Watts, also known as a QRP DXCC, is to log my contacts and upload them to a place where others might confirm those contacts. Traditionally, the process of confirming a QSO involves sending a QSL card between stations. Think of it as a post-card that has details about the contact you made. The other station in turn sends their card to you, that way, both of you have a confirmed contact. With the advent of the Internet this has begun to change. There are several websites that provide a QSL service. Each with differing options, costs and facilities. In theory the process is simple. Create a log of all your contacts, upload it to the website of choice and wait for other stations to do the same, thus confirming your contact. Of course in practice there is a bit more to it than those simple words convey. Starting at the log file end, there are many different ways of creating such a file. There are two basic formats, an ADIF and a CABRILLO format. There are hundreds of other formats too, each with their own quirks and limitations. Your logging programme will determine what the native format is for your station. To make life a little bit more interesting, not all log formats support all fields, that is, most support a callsign, an RST code, a name field and perhaps a comment, but some store just the band, not the actual frequency, others have the ability to store power, station, antenna, radio, awards, and many more details. One word of warning. A QSO is logged in UTC, that is, not in your local time-zone. What that means is that if you upload your file with contacts writing in your local time-zone, they'll be out by several hours, in the case of a contact logged between VK6 and VK2 during summer, that will be 11 hours difference, which means that the contact will not be valid until you update the time to reflect UTC. If you're in a part of the world where there is daylight saving, your UTC offset will change throughout the year - not to mention fade the curtains and put chickens off the lay. Actually uploading the file requires that you have an account with the web service. For some of the sites, that means, create an account an you're done. For more reputable services that's not really helpful, since online no-one knows you're a dog. So, many require extra steps, from sending a scanned copy of your license, through to sending a letter with an actual photocopy and some other form of ID. There's much more to say on this topic, but that's a start. Check your logs, play with different logging software and choose the one that works for you. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Share the Fun in the wider community
What use is an F-call? Recently I was in a discussion with a friend and we were talking about how we started things that we do today. I recalled that in my teens, I must have been 12 or 13 at the time, I was a Sea Scout in the St Lodewijks Groep in Leiden, in the Netherlands. Our gear was stowed in a little windmill called the Boterhuismolen, which was opposite a little island where we used to camp. On one of those camps we had a couple of visitors who set-up a huge Army tent with lots of gear in it. I remember talking to some guy in Brasil at the time, and if you've been a Scout, you'd recognise that I'm describing JOTA, or Jamboree On The Air. I had completely forgotten that activity, but clearly it rubbed off, since here I am, a licensed Amateur, making those same contacts myself with my own station. While having a Foundation License prevents me from sharing my station with an unlicensed person, it doesn't stop me from helping with clubs who go out to local Scout and Guide Halls to “show and tell” this activity of Amateur Radio. It got me thinking about other activities we as a community might pursue to show off Amateur Radio to the wider community. There's organised things like the Lighthouse and Lightship weekend, but it need not follow that path. You could contact the local library and set-up in their lobby, or the local hardware store, set-up a station, sell sausages and share the fun. You could go to a local fair, or a local school, to the local sports grounds, on the beach, activate a park, or a rotunda, go into the local shopping centre and share the joy. The sky's the limit. When was the last time you shared your hobby with someone outside the Amateur Community? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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5 Watts, what a blast!
What use is an F-call? I've been participating in contests for a little while now, both as part of a club, using a club station and equipment and under my own callsign using my own radio. When I did my first contest as VK6FLAB with 5 Watts, it was to see what effect it would have on my experience. That was over a year ago and during that contest I made many contacts and had lots of fun. I must confess that in the back of my mind it niggled a little that many of those contacts were on UHF and VHF, rather than on HF. Recently I did another contest using only 5 Watts, this time all my contacts were on HF only. I was on air for about 7 hours and made 39 contacts with 29 stations around the globe. I didn't quite make it half way around the planet, but 16700km goes a long way. For my contact, it was from Perth to Austin, Texas, about the same distance as between London and Sydney. It didn't sink in until recently that this means that with my radio, using 5 Watts, I could talk to most of the world with a little patience. Very humbling and very exciting! So, next time you wonder if your F-call is enough to get anywhere, you know. It is. In case you're wondering, my first 5 Watt contest was the 2012 RD Contest, my first HF only 5 Watt contest was the 2013 Oceania DX contest. 5 Watts, what a blast! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Mechanics of Contesting
What use is an F-call? I've participated in several contests since I became an Amateur. When I talk about contesting, I often hear the same response, "Contesting is not for me". In talking to some of those people, it's clear to me that often Contesting as an activity is not really understood. I'm not going to talk to you about how much fun it is, and it is, or how much you learn, because you do, or winning, because you can, I'm going to talk about the mechanics of contesting. At it's heart, contesting is nothing more and nothing less than making a contact between two stations and exchanging some information and getting points for the effort. How that precisely works depends entirely on the contest itself. On a typical contest, the exchange is the readability and signal strength, which in most contests is 59, followed by a serial number. So, the information exchanged might be 59001 for your first contact, 59002 for the second and so-on. The other station will supply their information as it relates to them, if they've been working hard, their number to you might be 59402 and the next number they'll use will be 59403 and so on. The process is known as giving out a number. Sometimes the information is the number of years you've been an Amateur, sometimes it's the ITU or CQ zone you're in, it depends on the contest. There are two basic ways you can participate, either by calling CQ, or by Searching and Pouncing, and some do both, sometimes even at the same time. In the CQ participation, you find a clear frequency and call CQ, something like this: CQ Contest, VK6FLAB Victor Kilo Six Foxtrot Lima Alpha Bravo, Contest. Rinse and repeat. If you're lucky, someone will come back to your call with their callsign, at which point you can send your numbers, they'll send theirs and you start from the top. If you're Searching and Pouncing, you'll tune up and down the dial, looking for stations calling CQ. Wait until you hear the pause in their call, and throw your callsign into the gap, once. If they call your callsign, give out your number and you're done. The recommendation is to start at the top and scan down, then go back to the top and scan down again. That way you'll cover the whole band in a systematic fashion. Some other things to know. You should take note of the numbers sent and received as well as the station worked, this is called logging and is a whole new topic all by itself. The contacts you made during a contest will count towards points if you decide to submit your log. These contacts will also count towards your DXCC if you should choose to keep track of how many countries you've worked. I've stayed with the basics here to give you a taste of what it looks like. Have a go at a contest, they're on most, if not all weekends, often more than one at the same time, all over the world. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Consider the QRP community
What use is an F-call? When I started this caper over two years ago, my very first edition of "What use is an F-call?" discussed the idea that it's not power that determines your ability to make a contact, it's your antenna - that and propagation. Of course there are situations where having a high power station will get you places that a low power station won't. I've often made the observation that having a Foundation License is like being a QRP operator, a station that runs on low power. If you have an Advanced license and decide to operate with 5 Watts and you make contacts, you get accolades from the community, where as a Foundation Licensee, you're doing that by law. It's quite amazing to hear new operators continue to have the perception that they need more power and that's why they should upgrade their license. This view is perpetuated by many amateurs in our community and I don't think it's helpful, nor is it accurate. I'm not adverse to upgrading a license at all, but power should not be your first reason. You should think of a higher license as more bands, more modes, more skill and more knowledge. You will have the ability to build equipment that you can't as a Foundation Class License holder and you'll have choice of a wider selection of callsigns. If you are a Foundation Class amateur, and you want to talk to people who use low power as a matter of pride, get in touch with the QRP community, there's clubs and websites galore, newsletters, social outings, activities and more. You'll fit right in! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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DX Cluster
What use is an F-call? With the advance of the Internet into society in the past 20-odd years Amateur Radio has embraced the warm glow of electrons passing across copper, or light pulses across fibre, and radio waves across the ether that embodies our Internet today. One of the tools that a radio amateur might use is a thing called a DX Cluster. It's a place online where you'll find records of contacts that have been made between two stations. The time the contact took place, the date and of course the frequency. If we leave accuracy aside for a moment, since anyone and everyone can post a spot online without any form of serious authentication, we can never the less use this tool for some interesting purposes. The obvious one is to use a DX Cluster to see who's where on what band and see if you can hear them there too. You'll find that there is some limited success and some indications of where a station might be found. If you look regularly at a particular station, you may be able to figure out patterns of when they're likely to operate and on what band. I'm an unashamed computer geek. I've been playing with databases since the late 80's and so massaging some data is part of my DNA. I wondered if you extracted a bunch of DX Cluster records, if you could find out something interesting with the resulting data. So here's what I did. I queried the cluster for the past 10 thousand records containing vk6 anywhere in the record. This essentially resulted in a record of claimed amateur contacts going back one year. I stuck the data into a spreadsheet and spent some time massaging the data, that is, filtering out the day of the week, the hour, the month, the year, etc. I then created some pivot tables to see if I could see any patterns. Given that I'm on 40, 15 and 10m, I focussed only on those bands. Of the three, the most popular band is 10m, then 15m, followed by 40m - representing about one third of the number of contacts claimed on 10m. The most contacts are made on a Saturday, followed by Sunday, then Friday. On 40m, the most contacts are made between 5 and 7am local time. On 15m the most contacts were made between 8 and 10pm. On 10m between 3 and 8pm. On 10m the most contacts were made in October, on 15m in October and November and on 80m in July and August. Let me be the first to say that this is not a complete picture by any means. There is nothing in what I've told you that takes into account solar activity, contests or many other spurious influences, like a rare DX station changing the numbers. What other tools have you come across that might help another amateur? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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VOACAP lesson
What use is an F-call? This week I learnt an interesting lesson. The difference between a propagation forecast and reality. I've been trying to work out what the best time and band would be for me to make some DX contacts using 5 Watts and spent most of the week learning about VOACAP, the Voice Of America Coverage Analysis Program, reading up on HAP charts, or Hourly Area Prediction charts, figuring out if I can install some of this software on my Ubuntu workstation and what is needed to make it all work. I'm still in the middle of that process, but finally decided I had enough knowledge and information to use a tool, and see what I could achieve in the way of a DX contact to Europe on 15m and what the best time might be to achieve that. So, the data I had told me that if I started around 4am UTC, I could likely begin to hear Europe and have some success until around 10am UTC. With that in my mind I gamely set out to do exactly that. I was busy at 4am, so I postponed to around 6am UTC and tried my luck. Nothing, not a sausage. There was a JQ1 station, so I had a QSO with him, got a 5 and 5 report for my efforts, excellent, but not precisely what I had in mind. The next day I was told that an hour after I stopped, all was booming in. So, my lesson for the day, reality and theory are complementary, rarely are they the same. I'm Onno
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Make an antenna at different sizes
What use is an F-call? I love it when I get feedback about things I talk about. It helps me understand when I know what's going on and when I'm being a doofus. Recently I was talking about building an antenna in preparation for a contest. It was intended for 80m, but turned out to be perfectly resonant on 160m. Not what I had intended. And to add insult to injury, I broke one of the segments of my squid-pole. In the telling of my tale of woe, I received an interesting comment from a fellow amateur who has been around the block a few times. He pointed out that we work with harmonics all the time, 160m, 80m, 40m, 20m, 10m and so on. Wavelength halves, antenna size halves. Proportionally all of it is related. There is no need for me to build an 80m antenna with 80 meters of wire hanging off a 12m squid-pole to test my design, I can make a 2m version with 2m of wire and a 30cm centre pole. Something I could conceivably hold in my hand, rather than fill-up a back-yard, spend ages stringing up, attempting to trim and re-arrange. In hindsight, the comment was so obvious that all I could think was duh. Of course if it really was that obvious, I'd have thunk it up all by myself. Instead, I relied on feedback from another amateur to point me in the right direction. Next step is to set one up, and measure what is really going on. I can use a hand-held radio to transmit and even go about plotting the actual signal strength by measuring around it. A fine project for a rainy day, or a field-day. So, if you have a thought that might help out another amateur, don't be shy, share your insight. Who knows, both of you might learn something from the experience. The name of the amateur, Richard, VK6BMW - thanks! I'm Onno, VK6FLAB.
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Wire for bulding antennas.
What use is an F-call? I once asked an amateur what the best wire was to use for an antenna. He advised me that there are really only two kinds of wire. Free wire and Cheap wire, with a preference for the former, rather than the latter. In the run-up to a recent contest I spent a week building an 80m pyramid antenna. It took around 82 meters of wire to build. I started with using a roll of 12 gauge wire, but that was too heavy for my squid pole. I managed to break it about 4m from the top. I should have left it at that, but I was determined, so I went to my local electronics store and purchased a 100m roll of light duty hook up wire. It cost me about $25. I managed to build myself an antenna that was perfectly resonant on 160m - very helpful - not. By this time it had been raining for several days and my antenna building activities were curtailed. Not because I melt in the rain, but because it wasn't fun being in the rain. At the end of the day, this hobby isn't supposed to be a chore, it's supposed to be fun. I retold my story over lunch when a friend suggested that I might investigate electric fencing wire. Comes in 200m rolls, $25, strong enough to keep a horse at bay, built for Australian conditions. I've spent a little time looking at this and while there are those who tell me that it's a fool's errand, there are plenty of discussions recommending and comparing this kind of material for use as an antenna. So, in the arsenal of possible sources of antenna wire, I can now add electric fence wire to my list of things to try. It's not free, but it's pretty cheap! What weird and wonderful materials have you used to build antennas? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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We are in the communications game...
What use is an F-call? Over the past two years I've been sharing my experiences and opinions as an F-call about Amateur Radio and the community. I've talked about learning and interacting, about participating and trying new things. Regularly I receive feedback from you about this contribution. First of all I would like to say thank you for taking the time to provide that feedback, it makes it all worthwhile for me. It recently struck me that there is something else going on as well. It often feels as if the person providing the feedback is unsure of their own role in this process. Nothing happens on its own, I'm part of this community, as are you. I'm not the sole arbiter of what is good, or what is bad. I am not all knowing, nor do I proclaim to be. My experiences are not unique, nor are they special. What they are is what they are. You are part of this experience. What you do, what you say, what you try and what you tell are what makes this hobby what it is. I know of dozens of projects, small and large that are going on in around me. People planning expeditions, building antennas, making go-kits, planning power solutions for off-grid activations, pouring over maps looking for SOTA activations, building radios and amplifiers, repairing equipment, making contacts and having fun. I know that you yourself have done things that you are proud of, things you learnt that others might want to share. We're in the communications game you and I. We communicate with those around us, in voice, cw, rtty, by sharing ideas, by helping out by participating. Next time you do something, be it large or small, write it down and share it with the other people listening to this broadcast. Send your contribution in via voice or text. Don't be shy. You are what makes this hobby possible. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Contesting is not just on-air.
What use is an F-call? In the past couple of years I've participated in several contests, and I know you might think that "contesting isn't your thing", but bear with me, I think you might be surprised. As I said, I've participated in several contests. I basically turned up, either with my own radio, or that of a club station, plugged in the aerials, and started entering logging details. There was slightly more to it than that, but overall not really. This week I've been preparing for a contest myself. I have to confess, it's a totally different animal. My preparations are about a third of the way, at least I hope they are, the contest is about a week away and I have learnt so much that I don't even know where to start. I might add, that most of the learning had nothing to do with contesting as such, more with the invisible logistics which until now had mostly taken care of by themselves, that is, someone other than me made it magically happen. So what have I been up to? Well, for starters I want to run two radios side-by-side because I've got two ears and lots of antennas and I happen to have two radios, so my first preparation is to set-up some switching box that will allow me to hit the PTT on one radio and talk, while still having the ability to switch to the other radio, without having to resort to either wearing two headsets, having two microphones, or having to plug-and un-plug along the way. I'm getting closer, I can hear both radios, still working on a short somewhere which is causing the PTT to unexpectedly be active, not something you really want - hi hi. I've got access to a nice tri-bander, so that takes care of 10m and 15m. There's a folded dipole for 2m on site and a wide-band wire dipole for 40m, but I really also want to have 80m, and I'd like to use my collinear antenna on 2m and 70cm. So I'm going on-site a week before the contest to build both the collinear mast and the 80m pyramid wire antenna and to test them in-situ. I'll then need to figure out what I'm going to do about logging, one computer, or two, what software, how to back it up? Then there's food, sleeping arrangements, since I'm unlikely to be able to do 24 hours straight, though I might surprise myself. There's the contest rules to read, radios to program, print-outs to make and I'm sure I've missed some salient detail. All I'm saying is that contesting as such is not just about the on-air activity. So, perhaps you'll give contesting a go next time, if nothing than to test your ability to set-up your station in a different location. One more thing. Thank you to all those amateurs who set-up a station for me in the past. I clearly didn't know the half of it. I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
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Succession Planning
What use is an F-call? I've been an amateur since December 2010 and since then I've been active in many different groups and communities. I've participated in several Hamfests, BBQ's, car-boot sales, camp-outs, contests, read articles and used websites. One thing is clear to me. There is a small group of individuals doing all the work and a huge group of people complaining. It's like they never heard the axiom, "Many hands make light work." I debated if I should even bring this up, but I think that in the interest of the future of Amateur Radio, it's important to realise that the average age of our community is increasing, getting closer and closer to the point where they're unable or unwilling to do the work that others almost blindly take for granted. I know I'm in the minority of people doing the work and before you wonder if this is a case of me asking for recognition, it's not. I've had more than my fair share thank you. It's about the notion that things just magically happen. Let me give you some examples of services that you might use. The editor of AR magazine is a volunteer, so is the editor for the national news. We have a weekly helpline, been running for 25-odd years, one guy. Local nets like the Friday Night Technical Net, been running for 600-odd weeks, one guy. There's a guy who's scanning all the back issues of AR magazine, going back to 1933. There's a small group of people providing training, a few individuals are committee members in their local club. Repeaters are maintained by a few people, sometimes just one. The QSL bureau in your state is likely run by one person, contests are likely run and managed by one person, your club's grant applications are likely done by one person, your club website is probably run by one person, the list goes on. I'm not suggesting that everyone could or should be making the same commitment as the examples I've given. They donate their time freely and give back more to the community than they take. What I'm pointing out is that as a community, Amateur Radio is getting older and the gimmie attitude appears to be getting stronger. I think this is a recipe for decline of this great hobby. Next time you use a service or participate in an event you might take a moment, rather than complain, or even take for granted a service offered by an individual, acknowledge and thank that volunteer. If you have an idea on how to further the hobby, to inject new ideas or services, don't wait for permission, go right ahead and start. Who knows, perhaps one day you'll feel that you have a responsibility to give something back to the community that you're part of. As I said, not every person has the same availability of time and resources, put yours to good use, for yourself and your amateur community. Think of it as succession planning. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Amateur Radio, a wide range of topics from all walks of life.
What use is an F-call? Every week between midnight and 1am UTC we host a 'net for new and returning hams. It's called F-troop and can be accessed in VK6 via VK6RAP, 146.7 MHz and via IRLP node 9558 or Echolink conference VK3JED. Conversations are about all things Amateur, upgrading licenses for those inclined, Morse Code, antennas, choosing HF rigs, logging software and any question in between. We recently celebrated 100 nets. The more we talk, the more we realise that Amateur Radio is a vast hobby that includes technologies far and wide. From propagation, dealing with the ionosphere, ground waves, Kepler elements when talking to satellites or the International Space Station, the Internet Radio Linking Project, electronics, audio, antennas, social activities, talking on-air, microphone techniques, physics, chemistry, competitions, software, hardware, you name it, and you'll find a link back to Amateur Radio. The most powerful part of this wide span of interests is that it all relates back to a single purpose. With people conversing and sharing on the subject, you're never short on a subject that might catch your fancy. And if you're in a situation where the topic at hand is done and dusted, the people around you come from such a wide range of society that there is more than enough other things to talk about. If you're wondering what to do, get involved, check into the 'net, or if you don't yet have a license, visit your local club and get one. A Foundation or F-call can be obtained over a weekend and you'll be able to do more than dip your toes into this fine hobby, dive in and get wet all over - you know you want to! In case you missed it, F-troop is one of many places where you can join in, VK6RAP, 146.7MHz, IRLP node 9558 or Echolink Conference VK3JED, Saturday morning, midnight to 1am UTC. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Standards and Guidelines for Communication Sites - everything you want to know about grounding.
What use is an F-call? Every day you learn something new. I realise that's an obvious comment, but I am regularly surprised at the range of experience and education that Amateur Radio brings to my life. In the weekly F-troop a topic of conversation raised by Graham VK6FSGH was station grounding. It's a topic that gets a range of coverage on the Internet. Often grounding is ignored, or only just hinted at by documentation. Antenna designs online regularly offer instruction on how long a piece of wire should be and how high it should be in the air, but not often a discussion on what the ground should look like. Graham pointed us at a document written and published by Motorola, titled "Standards and Guidelines for Communication Sites". It's a 518 page tome on the topic of setting up a communication site. I'm still reading, but so far it covers all you want to know about anything. Chapter 4 was what caught our initial attention, it's 100 pages on the topic of external grounding. That's not the only part about grounding either. There's the chapter on internal grounding, 72 pages and the appendices on measuring ground resistivity, and one on verifying your grounding electrode system. All the websites that discuss in great detail how to build an antenna are handily supplemented by this document. It also points at specific Australian standards for all manner of interesting things, like lightning protection, concrete structures, galvanised coatings, tower design, and more. In case you're thinking it's a dry technical read, it includes instructions that require a small sledgehammer, a tape measure, safety glasses and gloves, so be prepared to learn and do something. The document is called the "Standards and Guidelines for Communication Sites" written by Motorola. Happy reading. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Encourage rather than Berate an F-call!
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio has been around for over a century, in that time it has evolved considerably. From humble beginnings with the field being discovered and covered by inventors, to today where we enjoy the fruits of over 100 years of development. That's not to say that we don't have inventors among us today, just that they build on the shoulders of giants with information and knowledge passed down through the generations. Today we celebrate the existence of new Amateurs on a regular basis. We welcome new F-calls to our bands daily and we see a massive influx of new puppy dogs with wagging tails, keen as mustard and hungry to learn. Only we don't do anything with that. We have a few stalwarts, brave souls who spend their time encouraging new Amateurs; we see them teach, guide and mentor, train and develop, help and grow the skills and do the things that you'd expect from a hobby. Unfortunately there are some among us who take a different, darker view. They bemoan "the coming of the illiterate hordes", they berate and chastise, doggedly fighting the inflow of new ideas, rekindling a past where boys were boys and amateurs were men. They take the view that an F-call is not a real licence, can't really know anything and that one holding such a license is less of an Amateur than they. It's amusing to think that a crusty Amateur, say 70 years old or so, was once 14, half a century after their predecessors started the hobby, but they seem to have forgotten that time. Now I'm not going to name names, or make examples of those experiences I've had or those I've been told about, but if you're listening to this and your blood pressure is rising, perhaps it would be a great idea to have a think about if you're encouraging new comers, or not. Fortunately negativity isn't all encompassing, but it's too prevalent, too dominant to be comfortable. Get a life, encourage an F-call will ya - they're in it for the hobby too you know! In case you're wondering, Sour Grapes - No. Disappointed - Yes. I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
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If you're in a hurry you make mistakes
What use is an F-call? Today I was unable to run my weekly net from my QTH, so I planned to run my station portable. Last night I put my battery pack in the boot of my car, put the mag-mount on the roof, screwed in the antenna and folded it over so I wouldn't damage it when I drove out of the garage in the morning. I also put my radio, a Yaesu 857d on the passenger seat, ran the power cord from the boot to the front-seat, plugged the antenna lead in and added my log book. This morning I drove out of the garage, stuck my antenna up, plugged in the power and made a test transmission, only to see the SWR go through the roof. I wasn't sure what was going on, so I checked the antenna connector, all solid, checked the mag-mount on the roof, unscrewed the antenna and then screwed it back in again. Another test transmission, another high SWR and no repeater beep acknowledging my existence. I checked on the local aviation beacon but couldn't hear it. I went back into the garage, pulled out another mag-mount, plugged that in, had to hunt for an adapter cable to get from BNC to PL259, and tested that. Still no go. I'd moved my radio to another location during the week, wondered if I had damaged it in transit. Pulled out my second radio, another 857d, and plugged that in it's place. Still no luck. I reversed back into the garage, 10 minutes before my net was due, getting pretty frantic, then plugged in my QTH base station antenna, still no go, on either radio. I then remembered that I had a hand-held, so packed up the other radios, wound up the antenna leads, pulled off the mag-mounts and went to find a nearby hill capable of elevating me to the point where my hand-held could make it into the local repeater. I started the 'net on time, but lots of stress and hurry was involved. While doing the 'net, an 857d still sitting on the passenger seat, I turned it over to look at the antenna connectors, there's two, one for HF and 6m and one for UHF and VHF. The HF antenna has a PL259 connector on it, the VHF/UHF one has an N-type connector. If you've been paying attention, you now know what I did wrong. If not, the high SWR was the reading where the antenna length is close to 0, that is, the state where you don't have an antenna plugged in at all. Doh. In my haste I'd plugged my UHF/VHF antenna into the HF port, no workies. I did the 'net on my hand-held, not ideal, but workable. Next time I'll take a little more time in preparation. I'm also going to have a think about making the terminations of my antenna leads correct for the radio, that is, PL259 for HF and N-type for 2m and 70cm. You live and learn. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Each contact is different!
What use is an F-call? Last week I was reading a report from another Amateur, a QRP station who has made it his aim to have a DX contact every day. John N8ZYA, living in Charleston West Virginia, wrote on his blog that he'd made a contact with Japan. Initially that made me laugh, since for him, that contact was noteworthy, for me, it's one of six Japanese contacts I've made while QRP, in fact my very first QSO on HF was with Japan, sadly the information about what station that was is not recorded by me. After I stopped laughing I had a look at what the implications were. For John, getting to the rest of the US is perhaps not trivial, but at least about as hard as it is to get across Australia for me. I then realised that for John, Japan was on the other side of the planet, for me it was next door. I joked with John that one day I'd be reporting that I'd worked all states - in the USA, and that he had probably already achieved that, to which he responded that he still had to work Alaska. So my learning for the week was to grok for the first time that my contact with Japan is not the same as your contact with Japan. Every station and location is different, all the time. So when you next hear someone share their latest contact, perhaps it's a great opportunity to reflect on how hard that might be for you to achieve. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Trolls and what to do...
What use is an F-call? The radio waves are open to all comers, licensed or not. That means that while you have to be licensed to use a particular frequency and that stiff penalties apply if you're not, there's nothing physically stopping anyone from using any frequency. I recently had a report from a fellow amateur who had a particularly unpleasant experience on-air. They were accosted by another station. Fortunately that amateur had a witness to the experience, so they didn't feel completely alone in the moment. It did stop them from being on-air until surrounded by friends. This discovery brought out other experiences from other amateurs, one told how another station was impersonating their callsign, and only being advised of this by other amateurs brought this to their attention. I've heard another station use my voice from a recording like the news, and transmit that on a local repeater, and I've heard other stations being abused and stories about abuse. Abuse will happen. Idiots are everywhere in society, lonely, sad people, or malicious, or both, or something else. Fortunately these incidents are not common, but they do occur. What should you do when this happens to you? Many and varied opinions exist. Sometimes it's not obvious that you're dealing with a station that's up to no good, but once you are, the best advice I've been given is to log the experience, attempt to get a recording of it, and report it to the ACMA. Don't engage the other station. Ignore it. In contests, when this might happen, I'm told that the best action is to treat the station as local noise and ignore it. If you have trouble hearing another station, time your calls to coincide with the interference, refer to it as QRN if at all. I know that this is simple to say from the comfort of my shack, but it's the best advice I have to share. If you have other comments about this, send me an email, vk6flab@wia.org.au. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Get off your Alpha Romeo Sierra Echo
What use is an F-call? Since I started in Amateur Radio, in November 2010, barely a minute and a half ago when compared with the history of this hobby, I've been involved in many different activities. Last week I had the opportunity to sit down and have a think about what that entailed for me. I've been doing lots of things, partly because I'm likely to jump in head first into any new adventure, and partly because I want to get a feel for what Amateur Radio can be. I'm going to list some of the things I've done, not to brag about them, but to attempt to share what you might do to expand your personal involvement with this fantastic hobby. I purchased a radio after finding out about online sites like eham and qrz, where other amateurs congregate to share their opinion. I participated in about five or so contests, ranging from smaller to large, on my own and as a member of a team, with low power, or high power, portable and in well appointed shacks. I attended two WIA conferences, organised one of them, was the President of a club for a year, produced the weekly news for two years, recorded this segment for two years, hosted a weekly net for two years and visited new students whilst they were learning about becoming an Amateur. I helped with an ARISS contact in the Northbridge Piazza, maintain several Amateur Radio websites, answer questions from hams around the country and participated in two or was it three Jamborees On The Air. I was part of several field days, camped out with friends and set-up portable stations, have a weekly amateur radio lunch, built antennas and testing equipment, wrote articles, went to swap meets, attended many club meetings, started learning Morse, made several QRP DXCC contacts, won awards and received accolades and still I cannot quench the thirst for this hobby. You might be listening to this list and get exhausted. Even saying this out loud is pretty insane to me, but the intent is to highlight what is possible within this magical adventure that's called Amateur Radio. I'm very fortunate. I'm self-employed, don't have kids and have a very, very understanding XYL. Some of the activities I did with much help from the community and other amateurs who showed the way or helped me out. I'd never tell you to get off your Alpha Romeo Sierra Echo, instead, next time you're bored, next time you're unsure what to do, go out and participate, be part of the community, get going, build stuff, meet people, get on air. No-one is stopping you. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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AR Blows me away every day!
What use is an F-call? Every day Amateur Radio adds a little something to my life in fun and unexpected ways. I know that's a big call, but it's true. This morning whilst preparing to participate in a contest I was looking for a map that shows which direction to point an antenna in order to have the best chance of your signal ending up where you intend. Over the past few years I've seen lots of maps around, but none of them really did what I wanted from them, namely be readable, helpful and contain specific Amateur Radio information. I've got a wonderful Ham Radio Map on my wall [hamradiomap.com] and it contains many useful bits of Amateur Radio Information. Soon it will have pins on it for every country I've contacted, but it doesn't contain things like beam headings, or ITU zones. So, I googled my way around the 'net and found a great circle mapper. It is intended for flying, that is, you want to fly from this airport to that one, what heading and distance is that? Funnily enough, those two numbers are pretty useful for Amateur Radio too. Now I have a much better understanding on which way Europe is, what direction Dallas Texas is and on what heading I'll mange to contact Cape Town and why when I did, I made a QRP contact with Marion Island on the way. Amateur Radio, blows me away, every day. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Why do you hold the License that you do?
What use is an F-call? In the past I've talked about the difference between the various types of Amateur License in Australia. The three main types in use today in order of increasing privilege are Foundation, Standard and Advanced. The Foundation License, referred to as an F-call, since the first letter after the state number is the letter F followed by three letters, is the beginners license. It allows you to use up to 10 Watts, use some bands and basically dis-allows any digital modes - other than hand-keyed Morse. Other restrictions are that you can only use commercially available radios and you can only home brew stuff outside the radio, power supplies, antennas, SWR meters, etc. The Standard License, considered a step-up from Foundation, allows for 100 Watts, more bands and all digital modes. As a Standard Licensee you can supervise another operator, run your radio under computer control and home brew everything. The Advanced License, the so-called Pinnacle of Amateur Radio Licensing in Australia, is identical to the Standard License in many ways. You get access to 400 Watts, can apply for a kilowatt license, use all Amateur Bands and apply for power to do Earth Moon Earth bounces. The education part of the Advanced License is more onerous, some say considerably more so, than that of a Standard Call, but I'm not at the point where I can comment from personal experience about this. There is a natural progression from Foundation to Standard to Advanced, but the breakdown of Amateur Licences in Australia seems to indicate that Foundation Licensees appear to be skipping the Standard Licence in favour of the Advanced one. I don't have historical data to comment either way, but time will no doubt tell. Why do you hold the License that you do? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Where are the F-calls at the conference?
What use is an F-call? Looking through the list of Amateurs attending the WIA conference, I notice a distinct lack of attendance by F-calls. It was the same at the conference last year. Few and Far between. We don't seem to have a way to attract new blood to discussions that further the future of Amateur Radio, either because a new F-call believes that they don't have anything to say, or don't have the right to make their opinion known. Let me disabuse you of that notion. You have a license, you've studied for it, paid for it, passed the test and now you have the responsibility that goes with being an Amateur. You can of course choose to just listen, but if you do that, why bother with a license at all? You could sit on the sidelines and be a short-wave listener and take enjoyment from that. Or you could take a more active role in the responsibility bestowed on you when your license was granted to you, and make no mistake, an Amateur Radio License is a privilege, one that you were granted, not one that you have a right to. The radio spectrum is a fickle beast, it evolves with use, it challenges and changes and discussions need to be had. Are Power Over Ethernet devices a scourge or a boon, should repeaters be channelled differently, should we hand back frequencies, apply for higher power, ask for new modes, improve our training base, encourage more experimentation, develop our hobby, or just let it evaporate through apathy? I know that participating can be challenging, sometimes even confronting, but don't think for a minute that your voice is not valuable or that you don't have the right to speak. If that was what was stopping you from coming to a conference where lots of people share your hobby, think again. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Get familiar with Radio!
What use is an F-call? An F-call is an amateur license that you can obtain over a weekend with a little study. It's not particularly complicated and it will give you some knowledge and skills to get started in the hobby of amateur radio. It's the first of three license types, being foundation, standard and advanced, each with their own skill-set and requirements. In return, each license gives you access to more privileges with different requirements, restrictions and obligations. This is the way of Amateur Radio licensing in Australia, but it's not the only way to get on air. You're likely familiar with CB, or Citizens Band, in the Amateur community it can be referred to as the chicken band. Epitaphs not withstanding, having exposure to radio is another way to get into the hobby. Alternatively, you could purchase a commercial radio with a membership to one or more HF clubs, each with their own frequencies, nets, customs and communities. On the face of it, costs differ widely. Getting a little closer, they are six of one and half-a-dozen of another. You'll have to pay for a radio - new or second-hand, that or borrow one from a friend. For CB, that's really the only requirement. HF Clubs add their own requirements, as they are likely to have paid for their frequencies and need members to recoup their cost. Amateur Radio requires that you have an Amateur License, but you can operate an Amateur Radio legally if you're supervised directly by an appropriately licensed Amateur. These three broad groups, CB, HF Clubs and Amateur, all share technologies, skills and communities, so getting introduced to one community automatically introduces you to the others in more or lesser degree. There's no excuse not the get on air. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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This is your hobby!
What use is an F-call? New Amateurs arrive on the scene every day. They turn up because they bump into the hobby in unexpected ways. From all walks of life, with infinite variation in experience and outlook, they come to journey along the path of Amateur Radio. It's easy to see the lure, a technically challenging hobby with fingers in all manner of pies, with a long and lauded quest for invention and development, a history in firsts, making the impossible happen, achieving daring feats of wizardry. I've been on this journey since November 2010 when I first heard about Amateur Radio. I achieved my license a month later and have not looked back, though I should admit that the original purpose of joining the fraternity was to build something that's still on my to-do list today. Not because it's unachievable, but because there are so many other fun things to learn and do. There have been some mile-stones, for example, this marks the 100th edition of "What use is an F-call?", but it's one of many exciting things I've done in the intervening time, from making my first contact with a station in Japan, through making several QRP or low power contacts with stations around the world, participating in and even winning contests, socialising with Amateurs, building antennas, camping out, eating good food and laughing a lot. The Amateur Radio creed, written in 1928 by Paul 9EEA, still as relevant today as when it was penned considers a Radio Amateur to be Considerate, Loyal, Progressive, Friendly, Balanced and Patriotic. There are many people from many backgrounds in Amateur Radio. Some would say that the population is as varied as a random sampling of people in the main street of your local shopping district. I like to think of Amateurs as a group of people who go about communicating with others. You too can do this. I took a month to get my license; it doesn't matter if it takes you longer. I'm still learning Morse and I've been at it for some eight months; I know amateurs who did it in a fortnight. Everyone is different. Take part. Don't be shy. It's your hobby too. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Your callsign is your identity.
What use is an F-call? Names are important in day-to-day interaction between people. In amateur radio, you get issued with a callsign that after a little while takes on the role of a name. When you first become an amateur and you meet another amateur, they're likely to introduce themselves, "Hi, I'm Onno VK6FLAB". At first you do a double-take and wonder what the other person is smoking and where you can get some. After a while you realise that this is quite common. If you use your own callsign for a while, you'll get to the point where it attains the status of a name. In day to day interactions with other amateurs, you'll refer to another amateur by either their name or their callsign. You'll recognise them by either as well. It's a little like a surname, but it's different in that this particular name only makes sense among other amateurs. It gets better. After a while, you'll start hearing callsigns after the fact. Someone will say a callsign and you'll not hear it as individual letters, but as a word and you'll be able to reconstruct it. This skill typically happens if you listen to many callsigns, like when you're participating in a contest. Now for a funny part of this. Your callsign can change. If you are mobile, or portable, or operating in a different state, you'll slightly modify your name. When I was using a hand-held in Melbourne a couple of months ago, my callsign went from VK6FLAB to VK6FLAB Portable Victoria. When that happens, your name feels different. Just for completeness, if you're doing this in Morse, the rules are slightly different, but the ACMA website tells you the whole story. Look for ACMA portable operation and you'll find the "Amateur operating procedures" document. It also gets pretty interesting if you operate a club callsign. You'll use that callsign instead of your own. When you do that, a tip for getting it right is to make a big sign in front of your radio with the correct callsign. You'll be amazed how often you refer to it. Your callsign is your identity. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Try another station once in a while.
What use is an F-call? This week I learnt something that you can only learn by doing it. As you know, I operate a mostly portable station, that is, hardly ever from home, regularly via battery power and connected to a 12m squid pole - think fishing rod on steroids - somewhere around the metro area. My contacts are pretty regular. Generally one or more per session, mind you, some sessions might go for several hours, but contacts and listening none the less. I realised recently that I've been operating my own station much more than other stations. My radio, rather than others; my antenna, rather than those built or purchased by other amateurs. I've come to realise that just like when you learn to drive a car, it pays to drive in someone else's car once in a while. So, last week I did exactly that. I did combinations of my radio and their antenna as well as using their station as presented. Of course, I did turn the power down to 5 Watts, no point in making a contact that doesn't count towards my DXCC - hi hi. I had lots of fun learning about other radios, but also learning and hearing the difference between different antennas. Stations that I could hear on one antenna, I could barely, or not at all on another. And typical for Amateur Radio, that didn't always repeat. It's not a case that this antenna is better than that one, just that this antenna fits the conditions better than that one right now. And right now keeps changing. So, if you get the opportunity to use another antenna or another station, grab the opportunity with both hands. You'll learn lots and have a ball doing it. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Antenna, Antenna, Antenna
What use is an F-call? In Real Estate, there are three things you need for success. Location, Location, Location. In Amateur Radio, you need three things as well, Antenna, Antenna, Antenna. Many of us live in suburbia where erecting a suitable antenna is fraught with challenge. There is not enough space, or too much local interference, or neighbours with a concern, or a council with rules that prevent proper installation. During the week I received a call from an amateur in VK5 who shared their experience. A neighbour had complained about their antenna and the council had written a letter instructing him to remove the antenna since it did not have approval. A little wrinkle was also part of this letter. It went on to say that if you are an Amateur, you do not need to remove your antenna. So our friend contacted the local council, furnished them with his callsign and registration details and all was well in his world. Another amateur I know recently removed his antenna on instruction from the council without challenging their instruction. Other amateurs around him suggested that he re-instate the antenna and go through the process of discussing the issue with the local council. One wag suggested that he expand his single vertical to a real tower, add some 20m yagis and wait for heart attacks. Far be it for me to suggest that this is the best plan for success. The point I'd like to make is that an enlightened council can permit your antenna and an unenlightened one can prohibit your antenna. Your job, should you wish to accept, is to convert your council to becoming enlightened. You could do this by staging a sit-in, or you could meet with the Mayor, some councillors, or invite them to a field day in your area. You could educate your neighbours, alay their fears and discuss alternative solutions with them. Many people I've spoken to just do not understand that Amateur Radio exists, has a place in society and can be called upon to help in case of emergency, let alone be a social experience or a fantastic hobby. Who knows, your council might even sponsor the erection of your mast. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Think about the possibilities of your F-call.
What use is an F-call? As I've said in the past, a Foundation License is an introduction into Amateur Radio, the first step on a path to a hobby that can take you places you never knew about. Your newly minted license opens the door to exploration, curiosity and education. It's a license to learn. For some reason, I don't recall what prompted it, I became interested in finding out a little more about how Voyager communicates with us here on Earth. That lead me down a rabbit hole filled with amateurs aiming to replicate the feat and on the way I bumped into something called Unified S-Band, the communications system developed for the Apollo program by NASA and the JPL. It consists of carriers, sub-carriers and a whole lot of interesting stuff, including being able to determine the distance to the space craft within 15 meters. I'm not going into the detail of it here, look it up on the 'net at Wikipedia, it's a fascinating read and serves as a jump off point to even more reading, phase locked loops, Quindar tones, voice and data bandwidth and much more. Today we're pushing bits around across the airwaves, locally and internationally. We experiment with weak signal propagation or WSPR. At home we have access to GPS and WiFi. All these things are related to radio in more or lesser degrees. Your F-call is just lifting the curtain on the potential. Next time you consider the limitations of your F-call, think about the possibilities instead. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Finding HF noise in your QTH
What use is an F-call? Over the past month or so I've had some limited HF capability at my QTH in the form of a wire loop that runs around the ceiling in my office. It's not pretty and it doesn't really work that well. Across most bands, most of the time, I find an S8 or S9+ noise floor which makes hearing other stations a challenge. I've been at a loss to determine what's going on. I was discussing my plight with some amateurs over lunch one day and someone hit on the idea that I might see if I could determine the source of the noise by way of elimination. So, with that in mind, I plugged my radio into my battery pack, as if I was portable, and then went to the meter box and turned off the house power. Back to the radio and at first I thought the battery had run out, but no, the radio was fine, the battery was at 12.5V and everything was working. One thing was missing, the noise. I used my now quiet radio to have a look across the bands and found all manner of activity. I settled on a CW signal, turned up the volume and then went back to the meter box. One switch at a time, I switched stuff back on. When I heard noise, I switched it off and moved to the next switch. By doing this, I located two fuse groups that had noisy stuff on them. One of them was the ducted air conditioning system, the other was a generic power circuit. By switching everything else off, and just the noisy power circuit, I could walk around the house looking for things that were still on. One at a time I would switch them off at the wall and low and behold, the biggest culprit was the little power supply for my ADSL modem, the one that had blown up twice before and by the sound of it was creating a veritable HF storm on my radio. So, now I can replace the power supply for my modem, and when I want to play on HF, I can turn off the air conditioner and actually hear the remote station. At some point I'll have to figure out if it really is the air conditioner, or just one of a few things on that circuit, but I'm a lot closer to HF bliss. All I need now is some contacts. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Making Amateur Radio visible to the Public.
What use is an F-call? Being an Amateur is an exciting thing. It entertains and educates you, exposes you to new people and social experiences, it keeps you off the street and all in all, it's a great hobby. It's been around for over a century and continues to evolve. The Foundation License, as I understand it, was created to stimulate the growth of the Amateur radio population. This seems to be a recurring theme, introduction of Novice licenses, restricted licenses and other variations in the past were created with similar aims. There are some Amateurs today who feel that the Foundation License is too easy and lowers the bar too much and while I don't agree, I do understand the sentiment. The continued simplification of the license, in any of their guises is a dead-end street. The only final item on the path is to make Amateur Radio an unlicensed activity. Note that I'm not advocating this. Getting new Amateurs into the hobby is an ongoing challenge. Our average age is increasing and our collective experience while it's increasing as well, does not appear to make the awareness of Amateur Radio in the wider community any greater. We have a stigma that we're old crusty men who sit behind a radio listening to hiss and making funny noises with Morse keys while using a strange language mostly including the letter Q. Of course, for some of us, that is true. Fortunately, it's not true for all of us. At meetings where Amateurs get together a recurring topic is how to stimulate growth in our pursuits. Some have suggested that we need to go to schools, others propose going to scouts, or to young adults with disposable income. There have been suggestions to promote Amateur Radio as a Sport, the pursuit of competition, the making of league tables, teams and weekly events. All of these things are possible, some of them might even work, but fundamentally, unless we become visible in the public eye, we really don't exist in the mind of the general public. What activities have you undertaken to share your passion for Amateur Radio and to make it visible to the world? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Becoming a builder or inventor creeps up on you.
What use is an F-call? A little while ago I had a conversation about the difference between Amateur Radio and CB radio. This distinction is obvious to most Amateurs, but much less so to the rest of the community. On the face of it, there are people with radios that you can talk into and someone else can hear it. There are different frequencies involved and antennas come into play. Pretty much the same thing. Not so. There is one fundamental difference between Amateur Radio and CB radio. This basic difference is simple to explain, but the implications are that the two are different animals. Here it is: The fundamental difference is that in Amateur Radio, it's the person that is licensed, in CB radio, it's the radio itself, a so-called type approval. So, to legally participate in CB radio, you need to purchase a licensed radio. To legally participate in Amateur Radio, you need to obtain a personal amateur license. There are many other subtle differences and implications. A typical approved CB radio has a specific set of pre-defined channels and power. In Amateur Radio, the power and frequencies you're allowed to use are determined by your license. There's much more than I can cover in a minute and a half, but that's the basic gist. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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A crappy antenna is better than no antenna at all!
What use is an F-call? This week I learnt a valuable lesson. As you might have heard, I've been working on a magnetic loop antenna. It's been taking a while, much longer than I ever planned. At the moment I'm waiting on some testing tools, some spare time and an idea on how to best mount this contraption inside my roof space so I can make contacts without drilling any holes in the house where I live. I've been off-air for some 8 months or so. When I say, off-air, I mean, I've not been on HF for that long. Sure, I host a weekly net on 2m and I speak to stations around the globe, satisfying as the experience is, it's not HF. There's a lot of technology to make that net happen and one of the big draw cards for me to Amateur Radio, is the lack of technology needed for a QSO. I can speak to anyone I want within seconds on my computer, but it requires that a whole lot of infrastructure is working for that to happen. Computers, routers and switches, numerous networks, cables, satellite links, microwave links, electric power along the way and compatible software at both ends. For a HF connection I need exactly two bits of gear, my radio and theirs. That's what primarily attracts me to Amateur Radio. So, back to what I learnt. Being on air with a crappy antenna is better than not being on-air with a great antenna. So, right now, along my office is a little wire running that is somewhat tuned for 10m and I'm back on air. It's not fancy, but it's cheap. It works - sort of - and I can hear stations calling. I've made my first couple of contacts, local ones, but contacts none the less. All I can say is, boy am I glad to be back on air. What about you? Waiting for the perfect solution - wait no longer, get on air, get started today. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Hook up with the QRP community.
What use is an F-call? Using a Foundation Call in Amateur Radio puts a number of restrictions on your on-air activities. The most bemoaned of those restrictions is the limit of 10 Watts output power. There is nothing like the experience of almost having completed a contact when a deaf lead foot stomps all over your signal and drowns you out. In the past I've pointed out that a group of Amateurs shares that experience and power restriction and more. The community I'm referring to is the QRP fraternity, who restrict their power to half that available to us and often make contacts with even less power. What I didn't think of at the time was that this community is also an excellent source of information and knowledge. Their drive is to do more with less and as a Foundation licensee, you cannot help but be in the same boat. So, look around you, search the web, find projects, bands, frequencies, antennas, radios, power supplies and activities that the QRP community engages in and you'll find common ground. I know that there is a slice of the Amateur Radio community who have the slogan, "life is too short for QRP", but as a Foundation licensee, perhaps it's time to wear your low power budget on your sleeve. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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You don't need a license to get started.
What use is an F-call? If you're an Amateur, you're licensed. The two go hand-in-glove. But to listen to what's going on around you does not require you to be licensed. There is plenty of fun to be had with just a receiver. You can spend a little time on the Internet and find a whole host of radio nets that occur on a regular basis and listen in to the stations that are calling in. You can use it to "get your ear", that is, recognise call signs and become familiar with calling patterns. You can use a DX cluster and find reports of stations heard around the globe in real time, or listen to local fire and rescue services, or listen to Air or Marine Bands. Doing this will achieve more than the thrill of hearing something novel, it will help you learn about propagation, about antennas, radio protocols and more. You can learn your Morse today, no need to have an Amateur License to get started with that either. Becoming an Amateur doesn't have to begin with a License, you can start today. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The license doesn't always match the skill
What use is an F-call? When I speak with different amateurs it often strikes me that they come from all different kinds of backgrounds and experiences. Behind a foundation licence often is an individual who has experience which relates to amateur radio in some passing way. To grab a random collection, I know a foundation call who builds commercial antennas for a living, one who managed a large mobile phone network, one who maintains repeaters for his employers. My point is this. Just because an amateur has an entry level license does not mean they're always clueless. The corollary is true too. Just because an amateur has the highest level of qualifications doesn't make them an expert on all things amateur. In my search for knowledge and experience I've learnt to socialise with my local amateur community, find online groups who share my interests and interact with enthusiasts who are building and playing. Go outside once in a while and make some new friends. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Different License Types
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio in Australia today is licensed with three primary license types, the Foundation or F-call, the Standard and the Advanced license. If you're familiar with how they differ you're likely to know that they each have a different power privilege, 10 Watts, 100 Watts and 400 Watts respectively. You might also know that an F-call isn't allowed on 20m and you're not allowed any digital modes. For me, that was basically where my knowledge ended. Last week I started writing down what other differences there are between the licenses. In overview, the F-call is allowed on 6 bands, 80m, 40m, 15m, 10m, 2m and 70cm. The standard call adds 20m, 6m, 23cm, 13cm and 6cm bands, a total of 11 bands. The advanced call adds the WARC bands, that is, 30m, 17m and 12m, it adds 160m, and many higher frequencies, a total of 23 bands. There are some slight changes in the band-edges for the advanced call for a couple of bands, for example, an extra 10 MHz at the bottom of the 70cm band. So, Foundation, 6 bands, Standard, 11 Bands, Advanced 23 bands. There are other things. For example, an F-call is allowed one digital mode, hand-keyed Morse. Other licenses grant privileges to run repeaters, use different modes or allow computer control. The kilowatt trial is only open to advanced calls for example. I'm sure I've left out some distinguishing features, so if you know of one, get in touch. I'm in the process of making a timeline of amateur licenses, that is, show the history of where licences came from, the origin of the h-call, the k-call, the z-call and the n-call to name a few and if you have things to share on their origins, please don't be shy, the more I dig up on the topic, the more there is to learn. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Amateur Radio Language
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio is a hobby that's been around for over a century. In that time we've seen evolution in electronics, in communications, in science and in society. Our hobby has also evolved with those changes. Every time a new Ham comes along they bring with them their perspective on the world. The rich tapestry that Amateur Radio represents is particularly dense with historic, sometimes even ancient references that need context to understand. In the early days of Amateur Radio, communication was achieved using Morse Code, in itself a fascinating approach to codifying language and for the record, not the only or the first. Today CW is still in use, but other forms of communication have augmented the hobby and the wider communications field as well. Today, when you listen to Amateurs talking, you'll hear them say 73, or QSO, or QTH, or XYL, or any number of weird acronyms that make little or mainly no sense at all. Let me start with saying that sentence again, but now using english words instead. Today, when you listen to Amateurs talking, you'll hear them say "best regards", or "contact", or "home station", or "wife", or any number of weird acronyms that make little or mainly no sense at all. These acronyms have a history of their own. They come from the world of Morse, because every letter counts and if you can get a meaning across with less letters, you can get a message through faster. If you keep having to key "home station", it's simpler to say "QTH". I should point out that for example, "QTH" changes meaning in itself. Officially it means "What is your position in latitude and longitude?", but the more likely use is something like: "My QTH is Perth", that in essence means, "I'm transmitting from Perth." These acronyms don't actually come from Amateur Radio, but from the British government who prepared a list of abbreviations for use on ships and coastal stations. The codes starting with the letter "Q", are called Q-codes. They too have evolved to include Aviation, Military and others. 73 is a code that comes from the world of Telegraph, it too has changed meaning from "My love to you", to "Best regards". Today "Love and Kisses" is signified by 88. Other acronyms like CQ and DX have a history all their own. Next time you hear an acronym, ask the user for its meaning and start using them yourself. Before long you'll get to the point where you'll want to use it in general day to day use. Before I go. 73 means "Best regards", so don't be tempted to add an "S", as in 73s. That would mean Best regards's" and that's just silly. 73 DE Onno VK6FLAB
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Build your own community.
What use is an F-call? In June 2011 I started a weekly net for new and returning Hams. It was born from the idea that there had to be a place where people could congregate and learn. At the time the ink on my license was barely dry and my amateur radio on-air time could be measured in minutes, rather than hours. The net is called F-troop and in the past I’ve spoken a little about it here, how you can participate and when it’s on. For the record, it’s on from 08:00 to 09:00 every Saturday morning, Western Standard Time, or midnight UTC. Locally it’s on VK6RAP, 146.7 MHz, or via VK3JED Echolink conference or IRLP node 9558. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Its more about the impact of the net within Amateur Radio. As a direct result I have people contacting me via email, phone and radio and meet people face to face every week. These interactions stimulate inventions, ideas and experiments and in turn encourage new people to participate. I get regular comment about people listening in on the side and learning; we regularly have people use the net for their very first QSO. It’s become a magnet for interest and variety. I’m telling you this because this was all very unexpected. The side effects of creating a place where people can congregate with similar interests far exceed those of the one hour that F-troop represents. You can participate in F-troop as it stands, or you can do your own thing, start up your own little group of adventurers. Joining a club is one way of interacting, starting a discussion group, or planning a camp-out, or a BBQ, or any such activity, is another way of getting in touch with other Amateurs. When I started F-troop, I knew nothing about Amateur Radio. Today, I know a little more and it’s because I went out to the community and talked to them. There is no rule book that you have to follow, no-one you need to ask for permission to have an idea. If you have an interest, get out and talk to someone. Don’t be afraid to look like a goose - I do it every day. I’m Onno VK6FLAB
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DC to Daylight
What use is an F-call? From DC to Daylight is a term that until I became an Amateur, I'd never heard of and since becoming licensed I've bumped into it more than a couple of times. Once you sit and think about it, the notion, from DC to Daylight makes perfect sense, but what does it mean? I'll start off with that I'm not talking about Cheap Therapy for your Inner Problem Child - the Rock band based in San Jose, California. So, DC, or Direct Current, as opposed to AC, or Alternating Current does not change frequency, that is, the positive and negative poles never swap over, so the frequency that they switch at is 0Hz or zero times per second. If you reverse the poles, the frequency at which you do that, say flick a switch once every second, the frequency is 1Hz. AC does it 50 or 60 times per second, or 50 or 60 Hz. As you keep increasing the frequency, you'll come past 160m, just below 2MHz, 80m around 7MHz, etc, onto 2m around 145MHz, 70cm and up to WiFi at 2.4GHz, then 5.8GHz, eventually, you'll get to a frequency of around 400 THz, where you'll bump into visible light where the wavelength is 750nm. So, DC is 0Hz, Daylight is 400 THz, so from DC to Daylight means from 0 Hz to 400 THz. Said in another way, DC to Daylight means "all frequencies". Of course, you could point out that there are frequencies above daylight, indeed there are. It's really a short hand term and as amateur radio terms go, it's one of the more explanatory ones. Now all you need is a DC to Daylight radio, and you'll be able to listen to everything that goes on anywhere - provided you have an appropriately tuned antenna - Hi Hi. I'm sure there are terms you've come across that make no sense. Have a look around, or better still, contact another Amateur and work it out together. The only silly question is the one you didn't ask. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Storage for your Precious.
What use is an F-call? As a direct result of being involved in Amateur Radio, I find myself spending more time at my workbench figuring out things, repairing equipment and investigating new solutions. My workbench oscillates between clean enough to eat from, to a place where a cyclone went through in the past hour and all the stages in between. I realised that there are some contributing factors to this. Amateur Radio, a lot like LEGO, requires lots of little parts, the obligatory bolts and nuts, washers and the like, connectors and adapters, fuses and wire. Then there are a growing number of resistors, capacitors and other odds and ends. The projects waiting to be done and the failed ones. I started hunting for storage for all these little bits. I investigated little electronics drawers, but found them prohibitively expensive if you wanted to obtain enough to make a difference. If they were cheap, they were very thin and if they were nice and robust, they came in at a couple of bucks per drawer, which adds up to real money pretty rapidly. I experimented with toolboxes and all manner of different storage bins and then came across a fishing tackle box. Not the toolbox type, just a simple flat semi-transparent box with lots of little compartments. The one I found has about 24 little sections, and the walls are removable, so you can fit a large lure, uh, bolt in them. In my travels through various different clubs and shacks, I've seen a myriad of other solutions too. What do you use to store your precious? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Becoming a builder or inventor creeps up on you.
What use is an F-call? If you're new to Amateur Radio, like I am, it can be daunting to be surrounded by other amateurs who have seen that, done that and wrote the book. As you interact with those amateurs it will quickly become apparent that they got to that place because they started something and tried it. In today's culture we often solve a problem by throwing money at it. It's a perfectly valid approach to life, but it leaves behind the thrill of trying to make something work. Having an Amateur License doesn't instantly transform you into a builder or inventor, it sort of creeps up on you. You get your shack set-up and you find that a particular thing you need, a switch, a connector, a patch-lead, or some other gadget cannot be found, is too expensive or takes three weeks to ship and you cannot live without it. Perhaps you spend a little time online searching for other solutions and alternatives and you hit upon a web-page that has a fellow Amateur describing your problem and their solution, just as if the article was written specifically for you. Inventing and building is part of Amateur Radio, it's what makes the backbone of the hobby and one day you might find out that a soldering iron isn't a scary tool at all. Go and have a chat with an experienced Ham, have some coffee, bring a smile and be amazed. I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
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Reflect on your time in Amateur Radio.
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio is a social experience, an activity that invites and thrives on communication. As a participant in the hobby, either recent or long standing, there are many amateurs around who share your interests and can participate with you in your exploration of what amateur radio means to you. These people who share your experiences are your own little amateur community and while it's safe to stay with those, you might consider that the hobby is a gateway into a wide range of experiences and disciplines, so your little view on the world is likely to benefit from interacting with new people. As is common in our society, this time of year is traditionally used for reflection and in my thinking about Amateur Radio, I'm using this time to reflect on the things I've learnt and the people I've met over the past 12 months. I have started with Morse, done some serious contesting, met a whole host of Amateurs from around the country, built a magnetic loop antenna, built my first electronics kit, learnt about software defined radio, started learning about transmission lines, remembered to enjoy myself and helped with all manner of club activities throughout the year. The thing I remember most is spending time with other Amateurs and sharing the twinkle in their eye as they tell about their endeavours and contraptions. What do you reflect on in Amateur Radio? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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What's in a name?
What use is an F-call? The name of this segment is meaningful if you are aware of Amateur Radio Licensing in Australia, but if this is all new to you, then I might as well have said, What use is a Flux Capacitor? Let's start with some generic information. Unlike CB radio, where the license is based on the equipment itself, a so-called Type Approval, that is, if you use a certified CB Radio, you're licensed to use it, Amateur Radio works differently. In Amateur Radio, the approval is related to a person, they are licensed to be an Amateur and that in turn affords them privileges and responsibilities. In Australia, there are three basic license types, Foundation, Standard and Advanced. Each license has different requirements and obligations and grants you different privileges. When you obtain a license, you can apply for a callsign that is related to your level of license. The license that can get you on-air in a weekend is the Foundation License and the callsign associated with that starts with VK, which means Australia, a number, related to your location followed by the letter "F" and then three letters. So, my callsign, VK6FLAB tells you that I'm in Australia, the 6 represents Western Australia, the letter "F" denotes a Foundation license and the letters "LAB" are in my case a random collections of letters, assigned to me by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, or ACMA. The Letter "F" in my call is where the name "F-call" comes from. Some amateurs use their name in their acronym, or use letters that have some significance to them, or they use a license that has historic or memorial value. If you listen to Amateur Bands, you'll hear many different call signs, each with different rules and requirements; each country has a sub-set of the alphabet to play with and can allocate within their range as they see fit. Listen out for call signs, write them down and look them up. They'll tell you lots about where the station is and who it is that is behind the microphone. I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
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What have I been doing about my DXCC?
What use is an F-call? For a little while now I’ve been working towards obtaining my DXCC, contacting 100 countries. When I talk about it, often the first question is, how many contacts have you made? I’m always a little ashamed to admit that I’ve yet to make my first. Often I then get lots of helpful advice on what to do. Let me share with you what I’ve been doing since I made the commitment to obtain my Low Power, or QRP DXCC. As I said at the time, I don’t know if this is going to take a week, a month, a year or a decade, but I intend to get there, if not for others, but for myself as a personal challenge. My first quest along this road was to get on-air. I started thinking that I would do this from my car, set-up my mobile vertical at a suitable location and just start making QSO’s. I spent a fair amount of time scouting for locations, found a few to test and after sitting for a couple of days in these spots a number of things became apparent to me. My antenna, as great as it is, is a pain to set-up for an hour. It’s fine for a day or a weekend, but not for an hour here or there. Secondly, I didn’t feel particularly inconspicuous sitting parked in my car with a big stick standing next to it and at night I felt particularly uncomfortable. So, after doing some research and evaluating how much space I have available at home, I came to the conclusion that I should get my shack set-up at home with a suitable antenna. I’ve been researching antennas and as you might know, have settled on a Magnetic Loop Antenna. This in turn lead me down the path of finding a suitable and eventually with the help of several amateurs, building a variable capacitor. All credit to them. Then I couldn’t measure the capacitance of this contraption, so I needed the ability to measure small capacitance, in the order of Pico Farad, something my Digital Multi-Meter is completely incapable of. So I built an LCR meter. Although I’ve been soldering for years and every time learning more about this art-form, this was the first time I actually built something. So, now I have a variable capacitor, an LCR meter, I’m working on how to feed my loop and control the actuator that adjusts the capacitor, I’m getting closer. Once I’m on-air, I’ll still need to sort out logging and QSL and no doubt I’ll learn more about what else is needed. One I know is needed is Morse and I’m struggling a little with that, but a day at a time. I aim to get to the point where Neil, VK6FSKB got to recently when he heard a station calling on 15m. He called back and made a QSO with GB0IDD, the special event station for the 2012 UN International Day of Disability. So, learning, doing and having fun. That’s what it’s all about. What have you been up to lately? I’m Onno VK6FLAB
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Go and find your community!
What use is an F-call? If you've just passed your Amateur Radio exams and you're waiting for your license to arrive, you're where I was two years ago. Surrounded by people who have had their license longer than I've been on the planet, with so many options and not a single idea where to start. Let me start with saying, Welcome to Amateur Radio. There are many of us here and I'm confident that you'll find people around you in the community that share your interests and pursuits. Just like in any other community, you need to find the town square so to speak. That you're listening to this is an indication that you've found at least one part of the Amateur Community. This little corner, a weekly segment about having and using a Foundation Call is part of a weekly news system, in Western Australia, where this originates it forms part of the weekly News West news, nationally it's part of the VK1WIA news. Perhaps you've downloaded this, or you're listening to a local repeater, or any number of other ways that this particular segment can make its way to you. As I said, Welcome. Now you should go and explore and find other parts of the community. You'll find them on-air, on the local repeater, on the Internet, via Echolink, IRLP, via clubs, community events, during car rallies, or times of emergency. Amateurs are everywhere. Look into your local clubs, a Google Search for Amateur Radio will give you much to start finding things. You can look into the Wireless Institute of Australia, the world's oldest Amateur Radio club, the RSGB in the UK, the ARRL in the US, or hundreds of country based clubs and associations around the world. I'm Onno, VK6FLAB
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The Internet Treasure Trove
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio is as much about radio as it is about community. If you've only just received your license there is a vast treasure trove of information available on the Internet. Of course you'll find other amateurs online, search by callsign, since it seems that most amateurs include that somewhere in their post - seems like a badge of honour - seriously, there are billions of web pages around and finding those pertaining to amateur radio are greatly helped by the inclusion of your callsign. The Internet is used for all manner of things, information about choosing a radio, places to buy said radio and places to avoid. Information about buying or building antennas, information about propagation, online shacks with video streams, online receivers, clusters of computers sharing DX information, contests, logs and QSL information. There's software, maps, operation guides, buy and sell markets, discussion Fora, even what use is an F-call is online. One thing you might want to consider is to set-up your Amateur Radio "home page" on QRZ.com. It's a website that allows you to create your callsign account and after activation, you can update your QTH information, your QSL info and any other details that seem pertinent to you. Other amateurs and some software use it as a means to find information about stations they're talking to on-air, so you can use it as a source and share your own information while you're at it. The Internet is a whole other source of Amateur Radio Information and Interaction. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Turn up and start helping...
What use is an F-call? I hear regularly from other Amateurs in face-to-face conversation that they are not sure what to do and whom to talk to. These Amateurs, not all Foundation Licensees, for some or other reason feel that their contribution isn't nearly as valid as that of an Amateur who's been around the block a few times. Every experienced Ham I've ever spoken with has been nothing but gracious with their time and knowledge and serve as regular examples of getting on with it. They repair repeaters, do historical research, teach others, share anecdotes, provide skill and experience, encourage new comers and do so while dealing with failing health or other personal challenges. It would be absurd to think that you might get on with every person in life, and of course, Amateur Radio is a reflection of that. Some people are like kindred spirits and others just don't float your boat. This is a huge community, filled with many interests and activities all with the backdrop of a technically challenging hobby we call Amateur Radio. If you're brand new to this hobby, you may think that, what you know and, what interests you have, are not worthy of consideration. This is not true. What does it take to get involved? Basically, turn up and start helping. So, what are you waiting for? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Cleaning up your shack
What use is an F-call? I've now been an Amateur for a little longer than a minute and a half and my shed is beginning to resemble that of Amateurs who've been at it for much longer than I. There's a work-bench with two different type of soldering irons, boxes of connectors, spare antennas, rolls of cable, rope, clamps, testing tools, batteries, chargers and the like. There's screwdrivers, spanners, toolboxes and an overhead lamp and magnifying glass and I'm already running out of room. I've always had a shed of sorts, I'm a bit of a pack-rat, though I know others who take that moniker to an art-form, I'm not yet that advanced, call me an apprentice hoarder if you like. Today it occurred to me that what my challenge is, finding stuff, comes from something that I learnt whilst travelling around Australia for 5 years. For everything there is a place. My current shed hasn't yet learnt that lesson, so I'm going to be spending a little time doing some storage research and doing some organising. Who knows, perhaps I'll take that inspiration and start cleaning up the club-shack too. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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websdr.org
What use is an F-call? If you've ever sat at home wanting to listen to HF but you're radio is out of commission, worse still, you haven't yet got a radio, or your antenna is a project in progress, I stumbled on a way to have your cake and eat it too. I was hunting for examples of a pile-up and I'd found in the past radios that had been hooked up to the Internet that you could tune and listen to. Today I stumbled across something of a different magnitude altogether. Something called Software Defined Radio on the Web, or websdr. A group of amateurs at the Technical University of Twente put up the worlds first websdr in 2007. It was conceived in an attempt to connect the 25m radio telescope in Dwingeloo to the world, for radio amateurs doing Earth Moon Earth or EME contacts, it snowballed from there. So, now you can go to websdr.org, pick from a list of 40 receivers around the planet and listen to what ever frequency is within the station's range. The Twente receiver does 0 to 29MHz, there are UHF, VHF and GHz receivers to be found. The software runs a Java Applet that sits in your web browser displaying either a waterfall or spectrum scope and you can see the whole band at the same time. On your normal radio, you tune to 7.093 and have a listen. If you hear nothing, you move the dial and try again, rinse and repeat until you hear a station calling CQ. With SDR, you can see all frequencies at the same time. The software allows you to switch between modes, so you can decode the signal as AM, LSB, USB, FM, CW, what ever you want. You can set the bandwidth and play with the tuning, all while others are doing the exact same thing on their computer with what ever frequency they're using. Your own radio does one frequency at the time, SDR does them all at the same time and you can zoom in and out, scan around and find the elusive 10m contacts. With one look at the display you can see if 10m is active right now, or if it's a dead duck. The web site again is websdr.org, check it out, use it to tune your pile-up skills for the next contact, or use it to find a station you like, turn on your own radio and have a QSO. Nothing stopping you from turning on several, all tuned to the same frequency and see what the propagation around the world is like either. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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AR, an amazing community.
What use is an F-call? The excitement of participating in an Amateur Radio event, be it social, educational, competitive or otherwise is something that I've not seen or experienced in any other hobby. Every Amateur I interact with has a different history, a different bent, a different itch that they like to scratch. Some come to the hobby to design, build and use their inventions. Others come here to test their mettle against that of other Amateurs across the globe. Some come for the socialising and others for the mental agility they get from interacting with fellow enthusiasts. I've spent a year and a half trying to share with you what Amateur Radio is all about, it's from my perspective to be sure, but I try and find ways of highlighting different aspects of this all encompassing hobby. I've yet to put my finger on it, but there is something about Amateur Radio that other hobbies don't seem to have. Of course it's entirely possible that I've lived a sheltered life, but this crazy collection of people from all walks of life bring together something that is greater than the sum of its parts. I know that people who are not Amateurs look at me and shake their head, even those who are do that on occasion, but what I mean is that it's hard to see how big this field of Amateur Radio really is until you dip your toe in the water and have a go at getting wet. I spent a most enjoyable night recently talking about propagation, about the grey line, about long and short paths, about hard to get countries and more easily obtained contacts, all whilst sitting in a shack, listening to the radio, hearing people around us talk and communicate with each other. Perhaps it's the talking that attracts me, I've never been short of a word, but I have to confess, Amateur Radio seems to make sense to me in ways that other pursuits did not. I was going to add, If Only I met an Amateur When I was younger, but perhaps that is superfluous. When was the last time you shared your sense of wonder with someone? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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What does learning really mean?
What use is an F-call? On a regular basis I hear the phrase "When are you going to learn some more and upgrade your license?" I have no clear answer to that, other than to say that since I obtained my entrance into the hobby by spending a weekend learning and qualifying for my Foundation License, I have not stopped learning. I find myself surrounded by knowledgeable Amateurs on a weekly, if not daily basis who know their subject, are passionate about it and are happy to share it with anyone who is keen to learn. I've learnt about the practical implementation of antennas, am in the process of building my second antenna, have participated in several contests and to my surprise even won one. I am learning Morse, learning about propagation, have begun to learn to operate my own and other radios, have been exposed to social events, HAMfests, am part of the team that produce and present the weekly Amateur news, am an active club member and I still have time to host a weekly net for new and returning Amateurs. So, what exactly does it mean when I'm asked "When are you going to learn some more and upgrade your license?" If you don't yet have a license, I recommend that you find a local Foundation Course, spend a weekend and get your keys to an amazing hobby. If you already have a license and you think I need to learn more, I agree. I'm working on it. QRP DXCC is my next goal, what's yours? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Propagation, www.ips.gov.au
What use is an F-call? I've spent the past couple of weeks investigating Magnetic Loop Antennas and during that process got distracted by propagation. I've talked about propagation before, but in talking with an Amateur with many years of experience, so much so, that they have had their licence longer than I've been alive, it transpired that there were still things that I was able to share that were new. The Australian Government, that is, the Bureau of Meteorology has a Department called the Radio and Space Services, which is their space weather branch. The more common name of this section is the Ionospheric Prediction Service or IPS and their website can be found at www.ips.gov.au. When you get there, you'll find a vast treasure trove of information, both historic and current, even live. Of particular interest to us as Amateurs is the section which innocuously is titled "HF Systems". Within that you'll find hourly area prediction charts, the current and past T-index with future predictions, Minimum and Maximum Usable Frequency charts and the list goes on. In the Online Tools section, you can generate your own HAP and other charts for your location and your preferred frequencies and you can see what 24 hours of data looks like for that. You can subscribe to alerts, daily, weekly and monthly reports, book propagation training courses and I've only just scratched the surface. All in all, there is much more information than I can share with you at short notice, but I recommend that you go and have a look. The location again, is www.ips.gov.au. Propagation, it's what makes your contacts possible. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Magnetic Loop Antennas
What use is an F-call? You gotta love this hobby. A fellow amateur mentioned the notion of a Magnetic Loop antenna and now, several enjoyable hours later, I've been hunting and reading, learning and imagining what you might do with one of these contraptions. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, imagine an antenna that is small, efficient, simple to make and easy to lug around. Something that is especially interesting to me, since I'm getting a little worn out with putting up my 12m squid-pole for short outings. It's fine for a setup that's going to be there for a day, but I'm beginning to wonder if I couldn't improve on the antenna solution I've used to date. The build concept is pretty simple, a 1/10th wave-length circle with a smaller inner circle loop. Physically, there's lots of funky stuff happening, Magnetism, Capacitance and Resistance, all combining to make an amazing antenna - the full explanation is beyond a quick discussion, but excellent information is available. If you spend 20 minutes online with your favourite search engine, you'll come across many and varied versions of this and each design shows a little about the builder, from 40m to 10m, even 2m and 70cm versions of this exist and are simple to make. I can imagine putting one of these in my boot, or sticking it in the roof of my house, or putting it on a simple tri-pod during a field day outing, everything you'd like in an antenna. What makes me excited about all this is that the skill level involved in making a magnetic loop antenna is not beyond my two left hands - although I'll admit that I still have to actually build one, it's something that any amateur can construct, whether you're new at this, or not. Magnetic Loops, look into it. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Regulated freedom
What use is an F-call? If you're new to Amateur Radio, that is, you don't yet have a license, then some of what we talk about on the News each week very likely sounds like gobble-de-gook. Of course, the more you listen, the more you'll hear and likely the more you'll be able to join the dots. Amateur Radio is a regulated hobby, that is, there are rules and regulations, processes, procedures and conventions to observe. If this is all new to you, that might sound pretty strange and onerous, but you need to consider that Amateur Radio is a hobby that can affect people all over the planet. If you transmit on a frequency that interferes with some other service, then depending on conditions, you might knock an essential service off the air somewhere else. A regulated hobby also sounds pretty restrictive if you're new to all this, but the more you learn and participate, the more you realise that because there are strict conditions, there is great freedom within those conditions. It means that activities that you undertake here, can be shared across the planet. So, while it's regulated and controlled, Amateur Radio is a hobby that has infinite reach and impact. Amateur Radio, get licensed today and get connected - you'll be in great company. I'm Onno, VK6FLAB
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Amateur Radio is about Experimentation AND Learning
What use is an F-call? It’s been said many times, Amateur Radio is about experimentation and learning. It bears repeating, Amateur Radio is about experimentation AND learning. I know you’ve heard it all before, but what does it actually mean? I regularly speak with Amateurs across the bands, via email, the phone and face-to-face. The single thing that strikes me is that there is lots of activity that you never see, never hear about, never even know about, unless you happen to bump into the Amateur who did the job or was part of the team doing it. We have the experimentation down pretty pat, that is, we all regularly fiddle with new stuff and fix, change, add or create contraptions or solutions regularly. Personally we’re doing that and each of us is personally learning from the effort. The thing that comes back to me in the conversations is that people are individually re-inventing the wheel over and over again. I see little evidence of inter-Amateur communication. There is some crossover in smaller groups, one-on-one, between friends, but I see little in the way of documentation coming out of VK. That’s not to say it isn’t there, some people almost religiously document their efforts with YouTube videos, PDF explanations and plans, web-pages of instruction and efforts, but those Amateurs are far and few between. Next time you make the effort to do some experimentation, I’d like to encourage you to do some sharing as well, by writing it down and publishing the endeavour, who knows, you might learn something else in the process. I’m Onno VK6FLAB
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There will always be those who think of it as a lowly F-call.
What use is an F-call? In 2005 there were no F-calls in Australia. Today there are more F-calls than Standard licenses. Clearly there is an influx of Amateurs coming from the introduction of the Foundation License. I know that there are many Amateurs who want F-calls to upgrade their license. This is not a new phenomenon. In the past there were Z-calls who were encouraged to upgrade their license. I suspect that if I spent enough time doing research and talking to HAMs who've been around the block, I'll find that there are examples going back to the dawn of Amateur Radio. In fact, a HAM, ie, us, is an example of that. In the official world of Radio Telegraphy a hundred years ago, us amateurs were not taken seriously as a group. Funny to think that today there are still people who distinguish themselves from Amateurs by calling themselves Professional. My point is this, being encouraged to upgrade or gain skill is nothing new. It's been around for over a century and it will continue long after everyone listening today has become a silent key. Do I want to have a higher license than the one I have? Well, perhaps. Right now I'm spending my time learning about anything and everything. For me, Amateur Radio is a way to escape from my daily grind as a professional in my field and escape to the joy of learning new things. Getting a license that is of a higher class is in of itself not an endpoint. At the moment I'm learning Morse, I'm learning about Morse keys, figuring out how to set my radio up for portable operation in a simpler way than I've been doing to date and finding the time to participate in this amazing community. Will I always be a Foundation License holder, who knows - I've got a HR truck license and have been toying with upgrading it to an MC - but I know plenty of people who didn't get more than their car license. What you want to get out of Amateur Radio is up to you. There are going to be people around you wanting to encourage you to learn, regardless of your license, but there will also be those who look down their nose at what they see as a lowly F-call. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Cavities
What use is an F-call? Recently I was spending some time with a group of amateurs and we got the urge to fix a local repeater. In the past I'd seen things called cavities, but how they really worked or how you might tune them seemed like a mystery. I can report that it's less of a mystery today than it was last week. I'm yet to understand the full implications, but I learnt something. A repeater is a transmitter and a receiver working on two frequencies. The repeater receiver listens for input on one frequency and transmits it on a different frequency. The frequencies are generally on the same band, a 600 KHz for 2m or 5 MHz for 70cm apart. When the transmitter is sending, some of the signal leaks back into the receiver, making it less able to hear your signal. A cavity acts like a filter. You have a gadget, that looks like a big Pringles can, that filters out the transmit frequency and you connect that to the receiver, in effect making the receiver less able to receive the transmit frequency. The cavities come in a set that are inter-tuned. So, you make the filter as deep as you can - making it deafer if you like - and each individual cavity has an effect on the next. With the right gear you can actually see what is happening and how changing a bolt on the top of cavity affects the filter. Suffice to say that we spent several hours playing and learning. That is what amateur radio is like. You start with a small problem, hours later, morning tea forgotten, you're still playing with connectors and adjusting things. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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First Contact
What use is an F-call? This morning I made three QSO's, that is, three contacts with new stations. People who keyed their microphone for the very first time. The thing is, there is nothing to distinguish them from other amateurs, they sound alike, their call-sign comes out the way you expect it. The only challenge for one of the stations was that they were having some minor issues with their transceiver - they were able to hear me, but I wasn't quite able to catch them. I'd forgotten what the thrill was like to have such a contact and it reminded me of my first on-air interaction. Unfortunately I forgot to write down, actually more accurately, I didn't know to, write down the details. All I can say is that it was on the National Field Day in 2011. I'd put together my first HF antenna - in fact, it's my current HF antenna - it works very well for me - and I was sitting in a park with other amateurs and I made my first contact. I spoke with a Japanese station on 15m. We exchanged a signal report and everything worked as expected. These three contacts today reminded me of the thrill that I experienced then. If for no other reason than the thrill, get on air and talk to other amateurs, share your experience, exchange call signs and remember to make a record of your contact, you'll treasure it at some time in the future. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Where are all the f-calls?
What use is an F-call? When you get introduced to Amateur Radio, your likely first step is to get a Foundation License. That's not always been the case. The Foundation License has only been in existence since October 2005. I say only, because Amateur Radio has been around for over a hundred years. For example, the Wireless Institute of Australia, the WIA celebrated its centenary in 2010. There are currently more than 2300 Foundation Licenses active, said in another way over 14% of Amateur Licences are Foundation Licenses. My question is this. If there are more Foundation Licenses as there are Standard Licenses, why don't we hear more of them on-air? Recently I participated in a contest as a QRP station. That means I halved my allowable power from 10 Watts down to 5 Watts to participate to see what the impact might be - given that I'm aiming to contact 100 countries using my F-call and 5 Watts. During the 16 hours I participated in the contest I made contacts with 45 different stations. 80% of those were Advanced Calls, only 9% of those call signs heard were Foundation Calls. Sure, you might argue that because an Foundation Licensee is only allowed 10 Watts, they cannot be heard, but I made 185 actual contacts across 4 states - hardly the mark of someone who could not be heard. Perhaps my set-up was better than those of other Foundation Licensees, but I don't think that this is what makes the difference. I think they're just not on air. Perhaps you're an F-call and you're not on-air. What's stopping you from using your call and making your contribution to the airwaves? Perhaps you hold another license - perhaps you might ask F-calls you meet if they're on-air or not. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Find the spark that interests you.
What use is an F-call? In the last few minutes I've spoken with an Amateur in Kansas, a couple in Port Pirie and a few in Perth, all within the same conversation. That sums up Amateur Radio for me in a nutshell. Where else can you speak, real-time, with people across the planet, hear their voice, listen to their story and react as it occurs to you? Amateur Radio is many things for different people. It is that way because there is no barrier to entry. If you can pass your test, you can become an Amateur. It means that people come at this hobby with different experiences, different expectations, different skills and different languages. If you've had your license for a little while, you might have gotten to a stage where you wonder, "What Next?" - is this hobby really for me, or is it just another one that I started all excitedly and then got bored with? I cannot stop your boredom, but I can encourage you to have a look around in the vast expanse that represents Amateur Radio. From making contacts across the planet, to building radios and inventing stuff, from going camping, to socialising over a cup of coffee, from having lunch to participating in a contest, there is such a range of things to do that it boggles the mind. If you're stuck in a rut, I recommend that you try something else associated with Amateur Radio. If you've never done a contest, "because it's just not you", then I'd like to encourage you to try it anyway. If you know a couple of Amateurs, have lunch, or dinner, or coffee, or drinks, whatever. Talk about Amateur Radio. Find the spark that represents what Amateur Radio means for you. I can guarantee that there is something here for everyone. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Talking does not have to be terrifying
What use is an F-call? Having a license, or rather, getting a license is an activity that is relatively simple. I've heard it said that people fear public speaking more than death and zombies. Keying your microphone is about as public as you can get, but compared to public speaking, there is a pay-off. You don't actually have to look at your audience and you can do it from the safety of your bedroom if you so desire. As I've said in the past, I've keyed my microphone many, many times. When you listen to me you might not realise that every time I key my microphone is a first time of sorts all over again. When I talk on air, for example, to start this segment today, I had to take a breath, compose myself and key my microphone and start talking. As an added bonus, I'm reading from a script, so I know when I've made a mistake, even if you don't. As I'm speaking to you now, I have butterflies fluttering through my stomach, I'm wired, and if I'm not careful, I'll sound like a speeding train, talking at a million miles an hour. The flip-side of that, is that you normally don't hear any of the internal dialogue I'm having. I key my microphone and just start talking. If you've never done that, then the idea of saying something on-air can be daunting. The more you hesitate, the harder it gets and the more you might fear the actual process, never mind the technical aspects of setting up your station. There are a couple of things that you might do to make this a little less terrifying. First of all, you might consider that the process of keying your microphone for the first time is something that you've already done several times in your life. You spoke on the phone for the first time, you met a stranger, you were asked a question in a meeting. Keying your radio is the same thing. Every amateur has had to go through the process, and, in addition, there are radio nets around where you can do this with people who have only just gotten their license too. So, don't be afraid of your microphone, the trick is not to give in to whatever is holding you back, but to take a breath and give it a go. I look forward to hearing you on-air, Zombies notwithstanding. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Experimentation
What use is an F-call? Experimentation is what amateur radio is all about, for some amateurs more than for others. For me, it's an integral part of what makes this hobby exciting for me. It may not be your particular cup of tea, but then, amateur radio is different things for different people. As one amateur put it, there are many walks of life represented in the collective known as amateur radio. Back to experimentation. As you may know, I am part of a team of people who put together the news in Western Australia. Last year during HAMfest we put the news to air live, using a bit of kit from here, some kit from there, and bits from everywhere. This year we're working on making the list a little less broad and making our planning experience a little less hectic. One of the biggest issues we had was our microphone set-up. We had some hand-held microphones that worked pretty well, but from a logistics perspective, we had some issues to deal with. One is that a hand-held microphone sort of makes it hard to use both hands - unless you have a microphone stand and a spot to actually put it on the limited table space we have available. So this year we decided that we'd use a headset microphone. You know, the $20 jobs that you plug into your sound-card and use with your computer. We have several of these headsets, but plugging them into our mixing desk gave us no sound. Turns out that these headsets have microphones that expect a voltage, so some research was needed to make a box that did just that. A bit of planning, a few components, some soldering and drilling and we have those. Now we have working microphones, but now we have a bonus extra sound, we have a 50Hz hum that just wonderfully punctuates any silence we may care to broadcast. More research indicates that this is likely a ground loop and several suggestions are available on how to fix those. We've tried a few and we're working through the options, but hand-held microphones are looking pretty good right now if you get my drift. My point is this. Finding problems and solving them is what this hobby is all about. We do it with antennas, we do it with power and at the moment I'm doing it with ground-loops in my audio output. All this is learning that I can apply in other aspects of my life. I can walk around the street and see that someone has installed their TV antenna backwards, or that the CB antenna on their car is unlikely to work efficiently. All this came from learning and experimentation. You may not like to drill and solder, but that doesn't mean you cannot experiment. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Echolink for when you don't have a radio.
What use is an F-call? Over the past few weeks I've been playing with an Amateur Radio technology that links my work-life and my hobby together. For some, that might be a boon, for me, I have been trying to get out of the office - I work from home - to have a life and Amateur Radio is my escape from the world of Information Technology. Little did I realise at the start that the two go hand in hand. You win some, you lose some. Anyway, the technology I've been playing with is called Echolink. It's a way of linking radios across the Internet which allows you to communicate with Hams across the world, without needing HF, or even a radio for that matter. Before I get too far into this, I should point out that there is a common held misconception that Foundation Licence holders are not allowed to use this technology. This is not true. You are not allowed to hook your computer to your radio, but there's no license condition that prevents you using the set-up that another Ham is running. This means that you cannot run an Echolink Sysop node, but you can obtain and legally use Echolink with your Foundation call-sign. I should also point out that there are two Internet linking technologies - well, there are many more, but for the purposes of this discussion, two - that achieve similar things. Echolink is one, IRLP, or Internet Radio Linking Project, is the other. Both allow you to link Hams together. IRLP links radios (using specialised hardware and a copy of Linux), Echolink on the other hand links software, which may or may not be connected to a radio. That's right. You can use Echolink on your computer without a radio. You can also use it on your iPhone and Android powered phone. No projects under way for any other smart phones at this time. And of course, you can use Echolink and IRLP via a radio if you are in range of an IRLP node or an Echolink Sysop none, using DTMF tones to control them. Back to Echolink. You can download it for nix at echolink.org and once you've scanned in your Amateur License and emailed it to Echolink to verify that you're in fact a licensed Ham, you're good to go. You'll find that there are places where you can link to many Amateurs at once, or you can have a one-on-one QSO with another Ham. I should also mention that there are also special nodes that have both Echolink and IRLP installed, which allows you to link the two. You'll find that there are many 'nets around that use this technology. A home grown one is the Friday Night Technical Net, which is run by Reg, VK6BQQ, on Friday Night - Ontario Time, and Saturday Morning in VK. You can find it at the VAN-IRLP Echolink node, which is run from Vancouver. With the help of a few local Amateurs, I'm working on making the F-troop 'net, which is a weekly hour of chat that I host for New and Returning Hams available via Echolink too, which will allow people across the country to sign in and participate. So, if you don't have a radio yet, or if your radio is no where near where you are, you can use Echolink to still stay in touch. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Clubs and Associations
What use is an F-call? In my travels across the country, I come in touch with new amateurs on a regular basis. It's an exciting way to find out what brings people to Amateur Radio and it regularly provides brand new insights and ideas about things that people are doing and trying. Often their passionate explanation is accompanied by photocopies of articles, or a website, or a magazine, or a library of information that holds the key to some insight they experienced and went on to expand on. As you might know, I'm a member of the Wireless Institute of Australia. It's an organisation that's been around for over a hundred years and is the oldest Amateur Radio Society in the world. I became a member because I was broadcasting the news in VK6 to help out another amateur who was going on leave and I figured that it would behove me to become a member. Until then I'd asked around about the WIA and was given mixed messages about the benefits of becoming a member. I'm telling you this, not because I want you to become a WIA member, that's up to you. I'm telling you this, because for me, at the time, that's where my interest in Amateur Radio Societies stopped. Being introduced to other amateurs and seeing the articles and magazines they were using as a source made me consider that there were other societies, associations and clubs around that I'd never heard of. The ARRL seems to be the loudest, but there is the RSGB, and no doubt other such institutions around. There are clubs of Morse operators, QRP clubs, 10m clubs, beacon clubs and associations and many other. Many I've only come in contact with as a direct result of wanting to learn, try or test something. If you've had a license for years and know about all the clubs that you could ever deal with you may want to share some of that with others who are just learning; alternatively you might just have started with a new license or project and be on the look-out for some other shared experience. Becoming a member of a club or association has the opportunity to expose you to other skills and knowledge and that can only be good for Amateur Radio. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Looking for a lunchtime QSO.
What use is an F-call? Recently I went looking for a place to set-up my radio during lunch time. The location I've been looking for needs a couple of things. Most importantly, it needs to be reachable within my lunch break - being self-employed, that's a little more flexible for me than for some, but it shouldn't be a 30 minute drive there and another 30 minutes back. For me, the location needs to be near water, accessible by car; I should be able to park next to the water, so my antenna ground-plane can reach the water and it needs to be away from houses with plasma screens. In case you're wondering how my antenna system has been constructed, it's quite simple. I use a 12m squid-pole, think fishing rod on steroids, it's called a Spider-Beam. A local manufacturer made me a steel-plate with a pipe welded to it. I park a wheel of my car on the steel plate, put the squid-pole over the welded pipe and run a piece of wire to the top. At the bottom I have an SGC tuner, an SG-237, which plugs into the wire going up the pole and plugs the other end of the antenna into a ground-plane. Depending on where I am, the ground plane is a single wire running into a body of water, or it's a construction of 16 wires laid out in a ground mat. The Tuner plugs into my radio, the radio plugs into a battery pack and I can be on-air in less than 10 minutes. It's clearly not a mobile set-up, and I don't use it at home where my radio is really only used on 2m and 70cm. In order for me to use this contraption during lunch, I need to be able to get to the location, set up in short order and get on air and listen to stations around the bands. I did in fact find such a location and plan to set-up there to start some listening tests. I found that Google Maps was very helpful in having a look-see before going physically to the actual site and the photographic data provided by Nearmap was helpful in determining how busy the location might be. Looking for locations to set-up can be challenging. My current hit-list contains boat-ramps as a preference. Perhaps this might help you locate a place to get some QSO's during your lunch break too. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Morse is a useful skill
What use is an F-call? In the Amateur Radio Licensing regime before the current one where we have a Foundation License, a Standard License and an Advanced one, there was a requirement to know Morse Code before you could obtain some Amateur Licenses. I don't have the exact details, but suffice to say that Morse Code is no longer a licensing requirement to be able to enjoy Amateur Radio. You'll note that I said that it's no longer a Licencing Requirement, but that doesn't mean that your use of Amateur Radio and your participation within the community wouldn't benefit from knowing the dits and dahs that make up letters, combined making words or codes. For example, when you key a local repeater, not for all, but the majority of them, you'll hear a series of beeps. If you spoke morse, you'd be able to discern what call-sign is being transmitted and you'd know what repeater you were keying up. Across the globe is a network, in-fact multiple networks, of beacons which transmit a series of beeps at different power on a particular frequency. So, for example one network, a beacon in Venezuela transmits its call-sign, followed by a beep at 100 Watts, then a beep at 10 Watt and finally a beep at 1 Watt. Then in the next 10 second block, the next station at the United Nations does it, followed by one in Canada, the United States, Hawaii, New Zealand, and so on, until a whole range of beacons have beeped around the world. Why should you care? Three Words, Propagation, Propagation, Propagation. If you can hear a beacon with a known power level, then there is an excellent chance that you can transmit with similar power to a station in the same area as the beacon that you heard. Of course in our technology dense world, there are iPhone and Android apps that will tell you what beacon is transmitting right now, but if you knew morse, all you'd need to do is tune your radio to the appropriate frequency and listen for the call-sign. Ho-hum you might say. Of course, but you don't need to wait for a beacon. You could tune to a CW calling frequency and see what stations you might hear. You'd get a higher density of propagation information and you might get a QSO out of the experience. So, even though you no longer need to know about dits and dahs to get your license, doesn't mean that the skill is obsolete. My morse is up to 8 letters and with those letters I can already say 262 words. It's not much, but it's more than it was last week. dit dit dit dit dit dit, dit dit dit dit dit dit I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Ask your friends how to start.
What use is an F-call? Often I talk to fellow amateurs and ask what they've been up in Amateur Radio since I last spoke with them. I'm surprised to report that regularly the response is "nothing much". Digging deeper, it's not that the person hasn't got time, or even a project to do, but more often than not it seems that they're not sure where to start with their idea. Let me give you some examples. One amateur I speak with regularly wants to put a single-person erect-able mast on the back of their ute. Another wants to make a multi-band dipole kit for field-days. Another wants to set-up an ATV repeater and another wants to get on air with HF at home. These examples are real. I'm not naming the amateurs involved - this is not intended to embarrass them. I could list many more, but I won't. Just to make sure. These projects have not been started because of lack of money, or lack of expertise, or time. They have not started because people are not sure where to start. So, riddle me this. In the list I just read out, how many projects would you know how to start? The likely answer is at least one, and these projects are more than likely not your project. So, next-time, instead of banging your head against a wall when you have a project, why not ask another amateur for suggestions or assistance? I know that sitting in a shack behind a radio is a solitary activity, but not all of this hobby needs to be done on your own and I can tell you, from personal experience, doing stuff like this often makes the idea better and the outcome exceed initial expectations. So, dream up your plans and talk to others. Who knows, you might end up with a project you can share with others and advance the hobby in the process. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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You're encouraged to experiment.
What use is an F-call? In the past I've talked about experimentation. It's an activity that lies at the heart of Amateur Radio. In essence, Amateur Radio is a license to experiment. On the face of it, our license is permission to operate radio equipment on certain frequencies and using certain transmission modes, but that's an outcome that came after the experimentation. As an author on Wikipedia puts it, "Throughout the history of amateur radio, we have made significant contributions to science, engineering, industry, and social services. Research by amateur radio operators has founded new industries, built economies, empowered nations, and saved lives in times of emergency." Over the past little while I've heard some Amateurs exclaim that doing something was not allowed, or not done. I've heard people claim exclusive use of a frequency or heard them say that a proposal being made was not suitable for some or other reason. For example, there is nothing saying that a slow-scan 'net cannot be run across a local repeater, or a temporary Echolink node configured during a regular 'net, or the news being broadcast live, rather than from a pre-produced audio file. I find it interesting that a hobby that includes the notion, nay, is built around the notion of experimentation, can in fact harbour such views. If you have a license and you have a desire, that should be all that is required to go the next step, that of coming up with new and interesting ideas on how to use radio to do things. As a student of life I have found myself surrounded by people telling me that things cannot be done. I find it surprising that this view is possible within Amateur Radio. If you have an experiment that you'd like to try, I'd like to encourage you to go about your buisiness and do just that. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Share your single triumps too.
What use is an F-call? I've just had a browse through the latest Amateur Radio magazine, read a few stories, looked at a couple of photos and it struck me that there are two types of activities that Amateurs get up to. There's the social activities, where several amateurs, even groups or hordes - hmm is that the word, a horde of amateurs - get together and have a party. They build a station, either on the back of a trailer, a ute, a tent, a mountain, a boat, you name it. They erect, generally more than one, antenna structure, some go over the top and set-up about 15 different antennas - but the passion that underlies all that is held together by the social glue that makes up this hobby. Generally a station built like that has some or other purpose, be it to activate some long lost atoll, or a special event call-sign, a particular day, or event, to memorialise some past history. Any number of different reasons to get together, build stuff and get on-air. The other type of activity is much more insular. Sitting at home, surrounded by equipment, soldering iron, computer, circuit diagram, plans, descriptions, maps and the like. It's one where you might sit for hours listening, or calling CQ for a contest, or building a new piece of magic. It's one where you sit alone, with a song in your heart digging through a problem, learning and figuring out how something works, or as the case may be, doesn't work. This kind of activity is one that nourishes the soul and brings little gems to your door-step, unexpected, un-remarked, and just as wonderful. As amateurs we often remark on the social aspect of our hobby, but I think it's just as important to acknowledge the singular activity. If you're in your shack listening to this, building something, or if you've just come out to see if there is still some daylight left, I'd like to encourage you to share your experience with another amateur. They might be on the other end of the radio, or they might be reading an article in Amateur Radio magazine. Share your personal triumphs as much as your group ones. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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User your radio in different environments to learn.
What use is an F-call? You may have noticed over the past little while that I've been talking about off-air activities more than the ones achieved whilst actually sitting behind a radio. It's not because I'm no longer interested in talking about that, it's because of late I've had little opportunity to actually be on-air. Suffice to say, I'm working on it - hi hi. Until now I've only really used my Amateur Radio for making QSO's, that is, making contact with stations and having a quick exchange of signal report, sometimes a description of our respective equipment and perhaps the local weather. Recently I had the opportunity to use it for a slightly different purpose, which gave me a hands-on feel for why we have the protocols we do. Several Amateurs were all gathered in a 50 square km area, all well within VHF range, but out of sight of each other. Within 10 minutes each Amateur on frequency knew where everyone else was and each was heading for the same location. That in itself doesn't sound that remarkable, but it was the first time that I'd actually experienced the purpose of the way we use our call-signs and how multiple stations work together on the same frequency to achieve a common objective without anyone missing out, getting stomped on, or being misdirected. There's a big difference between being taught how to operate your radio, doing a contest, having a chat, and actually using your radio to achieve a more directed goal. If you've only had your radio ready for making call backs to the news, or for participating in a contest, all I can do is encourage you to try and use your radio in different situations. You may find that the things you've been taught actually obtain a different meaning if you observe or use them in a different context. In what environments have you had the opportunity to use your radio, and what did you learn from that? Let me know. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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How to get a license.
What use is an F-call? It occurred to me recently that there are people listening who don’t yet have a license of any kind. They may be listening with a shortwave receiver, a handheld, on a local CB repeater who relays the news, or they might have downloaded the news from one of the many places that it’s available. I’ve been talking about having an F-call, or Foundation Call, that is, having passed a foundation licence and applied for an amateur radio call-sign. It’s a simple step to take and one that is easy to achieve once you know how. So, if you’re in a position to hear what I’m talking about, but you don’t have a license, this is for you. And if you do have a license, then I have something for you shortly. Let me start off with the notion that getting an Amateur Radio License is hard. It’s not. Let me say that again. It’s not hard to get an Amateur Radio License. You need access to basic learning skills, the ability to understand and follow discussions. You’ll need to be able to remember a couple of things and you will need to learn the NATO standard phonetic alphabet. In terms of electronics, there is a little maths, but nothing more sophisticated than a few fractions and some simple addition and subtraction. There is no requirement for morse code - though I suspect once you find yourself with a license, you might want to start investigating that - I know I am. In terms of time, depending on how you do it, as a Scout it will take a long weekend, you can do it online, or get a book and teach yourself, or you can go to your local Amateur Radio Assessor who can teach you, generally a weekend of theory and practice, followed by an exam on the next weekend. You should budget for around $200 bucks for course materials, exam, license application fee and coffee. Of course that’s the beginning of the journey. The Wireless Institute of Australia has much of this information available and there are several other amateur organisations in Australia who will happily help you out. As promised, If you already have a license, then perhaps it might be helpful to go to a local science teacher, or the local yacht club or community radio station and introduce the concept of Amateur Radio to their midst. I’m Onno VK6FLAB
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Talk about your projects.
What use is an F-call? Over time I've spoken with lots of different people with varying levels of experience and confidence. Some of those people see everything as an opportunity where others are hesitant because they fear that what they're about to attempt might fail. Obviously in real-life outside amateur radio these same kinds of differences appear, but what I find fascinating in my experience is that this is not true for the same people. Someone who is confident in amateur radio might not be outside the hobby and vice versa. The thing that struck me about amateur radio early on is that it's all about people. Sure the level of technical competence is on average higher among amateurs than it is in the general population, but among my peers in this hobby are people from all walks of life, both young and old, unskilled and highly experienced, fun and serious. The more I meet people in this hobby, the more I find to learn and enjoy. If you're listening to this and you've got a project in mind, but you're not sure what to do about it, I'd like to encourage you to contact another amateur. You'll find that the more you talk about your project, the better you'll be able to explain it, the easier it will be to talk about it, the higher the chance of finding another amateur, or even a whole group of them, who share your particular interest. If you're looking for inspiration, search YouTube for the ARRL video, "Join the DIY Magic of Amateur Radio". I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Single Points of Failure
What use is an F-call? Over the past year I've come to see and experience some of the different achievements that amateurs have made in this hobby. It's not immediately obvious what the scale or range of those things are. Just scratching the surface reveals that the amateur radio news is broadcast every week, there's likely a repeater within range, if not several, there are clubs and associations, contests, training services, websites, magazines, on-air nets, technical talks and seminars, educational activities, promotions, sponsorships and emergency services. I've had the opportunity to participate in most of those activities, some as a receiver of services and others where I was an active contributor. Recently I was struck by the invisibility of the edge. What I mean by that is that there are single points of failure in many of those services. The news that you're listening to right now for example is put together by amateurs like you. The news has been here every week and you've been able to listen to it. The reason that's possible is because there is a large group of people across the world making it happen. You could stop there and leave it at that, but if you did, you'd loose the point I'm making. The edge that I'm talking about is for example, one single person is responsible for broadcasting the produced news file on my local repeater. Similarly, one single person is responsible for doing the same on 160m. Across the country, and across the world for that matter, are single individuals who are providing an essential service. Each individual representing a single point of failure. I know that I am one of those single points of failure - not a critical one by any stretch of the imagination, but none the less. I didn't plan to be, in-fact, the opposite is true - I offered to help another amateur with the aim of sharing the load and found myself holding the baby. This is not a unique story, in fact, it's played out all over the hobby every day. You could construct a list of all of those individuals and laud them with accolades, but I know for myself, that's not what I want - and I doubt others do either - of course, it's not for me to say, so instead, I'll ask this question: What things in Amateur Radio are you taking for granted, and what could you do to contribute to them? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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If you plan to fail, you will.
What use is an F-call? When I was a lad, which for me was in the 1970's, I had a big tub of LEGO. I used it to learn about the mechanics of things. I built a diff with Yellow, Blue and Red cogs - long before LEGO Technic came along with a pre-made diff. I built trucks and steering linkages, suspension arms and when I had the opportunity to build a V8 engine with several kits from friends, I did that. My electronics building followed a similar path. I had a Commodore VIC-20 - which reminds me, Jack Tramiel, the founder of Commodore Business Machines passed away aged 83 - read up on his story when you have a moment. Anyway, I had a Commodore VIC-20. My experimentation with that was at a TTL level, rather than at a component level. I plugged in switches and connectors, made a serial port between an Apple ][ and my VIC-20 and did all manner of software and hardware experiments. Other amateurs I have spoken with have experienced a similar journey, some with LEGO, others with Meccano, or Valves, Leiden Jars or a kite with a piece of string in a thunderstorm - hi hi. What I'm getting at is that even though I have limited experience with resistors, capacitors, tuned circuits, transistors and diodes, let alone designing and building circuit boards, I have the pre-requisites to start, that is, a thirst for understanding, a joy with experimentation and a steady enough hand to solder. While there is no way I would consider myself at any level other than beginner in this field of circuits, I know enough to start to read diagrams and when another amateur turns up for lunch showing off a frequency divider, I can follow what it's doing and how. Why does this matter? I've heard plenty of people tell me that they are not smart enough to know about electronics, and that they don't have enough physics, or maths, or what ever excuse they come up with. What I'm trying to say is if you think of yourself as not capable of doing something, you'll be right almost every time. However, if you think about how the skills that allowed you to survive until now might apply to what you're looking at, you might be surprised. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Thinking about hand helds for travel.
What use is an F-call? I'm about to go on a couple of trips and thought that it might be a good idea to have a radio with me, if nothing else, a great opportunity to talk to some locals on their local repeater. I have a portable kit, that is a Yaesu 857d with 2 x 26Ah batteries which goes forever using 10 Watts. My back of napkin calculation says that on 2m I can transmit continuously for over 12 hours with that - more realistically, if I transmit 10 minutes out of every hour, over 40 hours, though I've never tested it and likely the numbers will be different for HF using SSB with my Antenna Tuner plugged in. This amazing battery life comes at a cost, namely size and weight. The batteries fit in a medium size tool-box, and each battery uses more than 8kg from my luggage allowance, so, if I was keen, I could stick my radio and 16 kg of battery in my suitcase and take my toothbrush but I'm pretty sure my hosts would prefer I packed some clean clothes as well. I've been shopping around for a hand-held and I know that for $100 bucks or so I could select from any number of cheap hand-helds which for some reason that I'm yet to determine the Amateur Radio fraternity appears to refer to as Handy Talkies, rather than Walkie Talkies. The closest I can come is that a HT, or Handheld Transceiver once got explained by a Walkie Talkie User as a Handy Talkie and it stuck, but I don't know; what's in a name? Anyway, I'd like to be able to use the same accessories I already have, like the nice remote microphone that cost more than the hand-held I can get, my battery charger, the mount I already have in my car, etc. A friendly HAM had loaned me a hand-held radio for a previous journey and I'm borrowing another one this weekend from another HAM - which is a fantastic way to try before you buy - but I'm not yet convinced. I've begun to investigate solving the problem in another way. Pack my current radio into a satchel, add a small lithium ion battery of some description and I've got my "normal" radio with me when I travel. I don't yet know if that's going to work - for example, I've not yet figured out how to deal with the antenna, since the radio isn't really designed for sitting on its tail with an antenna hanging out, but perhaps I can set it on a flat surface and poke a multi-band antenna out the back. I won't be able to attach it to my belt and at this time that's not a great concern. Ironically, when I started, I skipped the hand-held option and my go-kit has gotten larger and heavier every time I find another essential tool. I think I might need to make two go-kits, one mobile and one portable - hi hi. It seems that even if you bought yourself your ultimate radio, your needs change. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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What is the DXCC
What use is an F-call? A little while ago I made a commitment to myself to achieve the DXCC. Since then I've received a few questions asking what it's all about. It's an award for the DX Century Club, or said in another way, it's a recognition of making long distance contact with one hundred countries. This achievement award has a long history. The DXCC was first awarded in 1937. Before then, in 1932 discussions started on how to determine what constitutes a country. For example, are Tasmania and Australia separate or together, what about Scotland and England, or Alaska and the United States. Suffice to say that a definition was arrived at after much discussion and you can read up on it on the ARRL web-site. In case you're wondering, things change all the time. In 1935 Tasmania and Australia were separate because of geographical division, Scotland and England are two countries and Alaska and the USA are separate also because of geographical division. Most of that is the same today, except that Tasmania is no longer on its own. Countries come and go, Czechoslovakia , Dutch New Ginea and Sumatra have all been deleted over the years, South Sudan with a Z8 prefix is new as of July 14, 2011. As I started looking into this further, it transpires that there are many versions of the DXCC, specific bands, modes and combinations of both. 2012 represents the Diamond Anniversary of the DXCC and there is a special award for that as well. I've found that there is a QRP or low power version of the DXCC which fits in nicely with my Foundation License and my own views on the level of power needed to get the job done. So, QRP Portable DXCC is what I'm shooting for. Now all I need is some spare time to actually turn my radio on. I still need to learn more about the QSL process, set-up a logging system, get a plan together for finding the best way to get contacts in different areas, learn more about propagation, learn CW and make sure that my home life doesn't suffer while I'm doing this. As I said the first time around, I don't know if I am going to take a month, a year or a decade to do this, but it's a really nice way for me to focus my attention on a particular aim and has the added benefit of making me an active operator, which ultimately is what this is all about, actually turning on the radio and using it. How have you gone about developing your skills and motivating yourself? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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What does Amateur Radio mean for you?
What use is an F-call? Arthur C Clarke pointed out that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" and so it is with Amateur Radio. We're celebrating over a century of radio and most of that is about learning, about transforming knowledge, applying that and coming up with new solutions for problems. What use is an F-call started 44 episodes ago. During that time I've talked about what Amateur Radio is about, what you can do with a Foundation Call, how to involve yourself in the hobby, how to ask questions, where to go for help and many other topics. As I've said all along, I'm a new Amateur. I've been in this hobby less than two years and every day I learn something new. From the feedback I'm getting, what I'm doing is striking a chord for many Amateurs and I'm happy that it does. Ultimately, the aim of this is to encourage Amateurs to experiment, to talk, to interact and to not be afraid to make mistakes. Some of those topics are specific to new hams, but some might relate to you even if you've had a license for much longer. I'd like to see "What use is an F-call" evolve into something that you can participate in. Your contribution might be a simple email that tells of an experience you had at some time, or it might be an outline of an idea that you'd like to see discussed. For me, Amateur Radio is magical. It's a technically challenging hobby that encourages me to investigate and learn. What does Amateur Radio mean for you? If you'd like to get in touch, my email address is vk6flab@harg.org.au I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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How well do you know your radio really?
What use is an F-call? So, you've got yourself a transceiver and it's all working well. You've read the manual more than a couple of times and you know your way around your kit. It's great to know how to operate your own radio and I've spoken to many hams who know their way around their own radio backwards. I remember one day speaking with an amateur and we were talking about how I could show a spectrum scope showing activity across a band. He lamented that his radio didn't have that functionality. I had a quick look through his system and activated the spectrum scope on his radio. A pleasant surprise for both. The opposite happened not long afterwards when another amateur was using my rig to listen to a remote station. He fiddled with some settings and magically the station appeared from out of the muck and we could hear it clearly. I asked him how he did that and after some hand-waving it transpired that there were some settings I knew nothing about - the radio which I'd known for many hours, read the manual backwards and so-on. It's been on my to-do list for a little while now, but I've just spent an enjoyable couple of hours sitting at my radio, re-reading parts of the manual, learning more about its operating parameters, how to set filters, turn on and off pre-amplifiers, change microphone equalisation and many other settings. How well do you know your radio - really? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Go outside "your" band once in a while.
What use is an F-call? As an amateur you have access to a whole range of frequencies. When I started in this hobby, I chose to buy an all-band set which allows me access to the main amateur bands, 160m through to 70cm. As I talk to other amateurs it occurred to me that apart from having a radio that can do those bands, it turns out that there are amateurs who favour particular bands. Of course, some of the preference for a particular band comes from having a suitable antenna since not everyone has access to space where you can put up an antenna farm or a large dipole to access some of the lower bands. Those considerations aside, while real, only show part of the picture. It turns out that within Amateur Radio there are some who stay on their particular band, or sometimes even "their frequency" and are happy to do so. Having participated in a few contests over the past year, I can say that talking to new and varied people on a variety of bands has given me much joy. I've now tuned across and spoken on most amateur bands, either with my own call-sign, or as a contest participant with a club-sign. If you "only have access" to a hand-held radio capable of 2m and 70cm, I'd like to encourage you to find a friend with a station capable of using HF and spending a little time perusing the bands. And if you're a died in the wool HF participant, tune your gear to UHF and VHF once in a while, you might be surprised. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Crimping and Soldering
What use is an F-call? With coax going between radios, amplifiers, tuners, SWR meters and antennas there is no shortage on connectors. You can buy pre-made connecting cables, but after a while you'll likely realise that you're spending a fortune on such luxuries and you'll likely come to the conclusion that the pre-made solution is never quite the right length, either too long or too short. So you take like a duck to water and you start making your own cables, patch leads, etc. Leaving aside what kind of connector to select, where to buy it or which of the bewildering array of coax to acquire from a bevy of suppliers, you have a fundamental choice between crimping and soldering. If you spend a little time online you'll find that there is solid evidence either way and adherents to either school. Just like Holden versus Ford or Mac versus PC, each "side" vehemently defends their turf. Until recently I was exclusively a crimper. I crimped each connector that I could and I was happy. Well, mostly happy that is. I had this really annoying tool that for some reason would not crimp RG58 BNC connectors without leaving a little wing on the ferrule. Turns out that my dear supplier had snuck some RG59 connectors into the mix and they look really similar until you hold them side by side - and if you're wondering, the RG59 ferrule fits around the RG58 one, so no wonder it bulged like that. Anyway, that started the conversation about crimping versus soldering. Now, I'm not going to tell you what to choose. I suspect there are solid arguments that I'm avoiding here, but food for thought is this: A crimp has no undo. That is, once you've mashed your lug, it's all over. If you stuffed it up, you cut off your connector, throw it out and start again. Of course if you practice enough, stuffing it up hardly ever happens. Better crimping tools help you achieve your aim. However, if you solder, then if you stuff it up, you have the opportunity to heat it all up again, remove the offending poor connection and try again. I've just acquired a gas soldering iron - I never even knew such a thing existed, I'd never have bought the 12V travel iron for my trip if I'd known, and now I have the option to solder in the field. So, why does this matter? What should you choose? You have no need to be exclusive one way or the other. Just like one antenna doesn't do all jobs, and one screwdriver is never enough, crimping and soldering are two options in your arsenal. They complement each other. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Anyone can contribute.
What use is an F-call? To be a HAM means different things to different people. For some it's an excuse to have a radio or it's a reason to participate in competitions. For others it's a reason to invent new contraptions in the shack, but for most, being a HAM is about communication. The obvious communication is that heard on-air across the Amateur Bands, but that's not the only communication that is occurring. Many HAMs are members of clubs, or find like-minded individuals where they make their experience a shared one. What ever your bent in Amateur Radio, you're participating in this hobby to get something from it. Of course, if everyone only ever took something without giving something back, there would not be a hobby at all. For me, giving back is in the realm of the things I do, making this segment, hosting F-troop on the local repeater, participating in my club, writing articles, sending email feedback and making myself available for others to talk to. It's strange to me, but I've heard many new licensees say that because they only have an F-call, or because they've only been licensed for a small time, they're not able to contribute. Worse still, even if those excuses are not used, there seems to be the idea that they have no right to speak up, or that they have not enough knowledge to contribute in any meaningful way. I'd have to say that this makes no sense to me. I know that I'm not backwards in coming forward, some would say I've got more front than a Mac truck, but I try very hard to make my contributions in the realms that I understand and one of those is that I'm a beginner, so I'll spend lots of time asking questions and reading articles. At some point someone will say something that runs contrary to my understanding, so I'll ask why? Asking "Why?" is in of itself a contribution, but you can expand on it by doing something with what you learnt from asking the question. You could write an article for the local newsletter, send an email to your local mailing list, or post a story on your website. You could go on air and talk about it, or sit around the BBQ and share. Contributions can be made everywhere. Having a Foundation License, or being new to the hobby is no excuse. What did you contribute to your hobby today? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Foundation License DXCC
What use is an F-call? A recent lunchtime conversation between HAMs revealed that the perception that you need to upgrade your license is still alive and well. Now, I should start by saying that I'm all for upgrading your skill level and learning. Getting a higher grade license is an excellent way to formalise the process of training and encouraging yourself to learn specific skills, but that notion is not related in any way to your ability to participate as an active amateur. I know that I keep saying that Power is not the Answer, it's what you do with what you have that makes all the difference. The more I come across other amateurs, the more I realise that if I look at my Foundation License as a QRP, or low-power license, the more I can find challenges to tackle and investigate. I'm actively investigating new antenna types and ways to get my signal out to the world. Last weekend I spent several hours looking for new take-off points around my QTH, my home-town, and have found several promising locations that need investigating. The thing I like about Amateur Radio is that it's as much about being self-driven and motivated as it is about joining forces with other Amateurs who are either trying to achieve something that runs in parallel to your goals, or who have achieved what you're aiming for. My personal goal, for no other reason that I'd like to prove to myself that it can be done is to achieve the DXCC, an amateur radio award, earned by making contact with 100 or more geographic entities around the world, using just my Foundation License. I don't know if it has been done or not and while I could spend an enjoyable Sunday finding out, it's more about showing myself that it can be done. I don't know if I am going to take a month, a year or a decade to do this, but that's my aim. One thing I know is that I'll be talking to lots of people around the world to get there - hi hi. So, my question to you is, what motivates you to use your License, Foundation or otherwise? I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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QSL cards in 2 minutes
What use is an F-call? When you've been on air for many years it's easy to forget what it's like for new comers to the hobby. Take for example the simple QSL card. It's been around for a hundred years and its use is simple to the initiated, but to a newbie like me terms like QSL via the bureau or QSL direct are mysterious phrases with little meaning. I had the opportunity to listen to our local state QSL manager, Steve VK6IR, who spent an enjoyable half hour walking through the notions of what a QSL card means, how it works and how you participate. Now I should preface this with any mistakes in this are mine alone. I'm hard of hearing, have a gamy leg and my memory is fading, or some such disclaimer like that. So, in less than two minutes. A QSL card is like a post-card. It is sent between stations to acknowledge a contact. It generally contains your and their call-sign, the time, mode and frequency on which you spoke and a signal report. It's used as "proof" of a contact. You can send it to the other station direct by way of ordinary mail, look-up their call-sign in any number of online databases and include a self-addressed envelope and two US Dollars to pay for postage for a return card. If all goes well, you should receive a reply, that's the direct method. Via the bureau is a coordinated effort between countries to group QSL cards together in batches. You send your cards in a box to your bureau which receives similar boxes from around the country. The boxes are split up and grouped by country and when a box-full is collected, it's forwarded to that country. At the other end QSL cards are sorted per call area and call-sign and forwarded on. It may take several months or even years for your cards to arrive. Electronic QSL services are becoming popular, but some DX competitions don't accept electronic QSL cards, so check before you make 1000 contacts for a particular award only to find that your contacts don't count. There's more to learn, where to get your cards, what they might look like, rare contacts and special routing, but that's a brief overview of the QSL system. One mystery down, a million more to go. I'm Onno VK6FLAB.
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Don't re-invent the wheel, ask an Amateur
What use is an F-call? The joys of Amateur Radio involve the mystical ability of a piece of wire to resonate and transmit our voice or other data across the radio air-waves. It's a tricky business which involves the length of the wire, it's proximity to other objects and the difference in impedance between the wire and the radio. Having all the information in one place seems to be a challenge and each amateur you speak to has a whole set of personal experience which may or may not contradict the experience of the next amateur you speak with. I just spent a very enjoyable hour and a half speaking with several other amateurs in a group discussion about the challenge one amateur was having with their multi-band HF antenna. It goes a little like this: You have a multi-band antenna and you pull it out of its packaging, only to find that you need to tune the thing. So you read the instructions which say that you should start with the shortest length, tune that, then work your way up. It even tells you how to set-up your antenna while you're doing this. Of course, nothing is ever that simple. Once you've tuned it, you climb on your roof, bolt the contraption in place and find that nothing is the same. Worse still, you really need to be in two places at the same time, at your antenna analyser on the ground and at your antenna on the roof. Simple, you just get two people, only, the person on the roof and the aluminium antenna that got them there affect the antenna. So, you need an RF invisible person and a wooden ladder, or you just need more help, more calculations, or more patience. So, now you've got this magic gadget pretty close, but you still have more hair to loose. The antenna rusts, conductivity changes, you name it. This to me is what the thrill of Amateur Radio is all about, experimentation and learning, interacting with others and trying stuff. My recommendation if you're ever pulling out your hair, remember, Amateur Radio is older than you. There are many people around who have gone this path before, so don't re-invent the wheel, ask another amateur, you're likely to find someone who has done what you're trying and has solved the problem before. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Operating Envelope Surprise
What use is an F-call? Recently I had to repair one of my antennas. It had fallen on hard-times, strictly speaking, it fell on hard concrete when it fell off my fence, but the outcome was the same, it broke. When I had a chance to see inside the broken component I realised that it was plastic. In my case the part that broke was the Phase Coil, it's the bead in the middle of my multi-band 2m/70cm antenna. The part was made of two metal grommets, with a plastic pipe between them. Inside is a copper coil - presumably tuned for purpose. When I saw inside this coil I realised how fragile this part really was. Until then I'd had no idea that the part was made of plastic, let alone that it might break so easily. I've said before that I've set-up my kit at least every week since I purchased it, so at least 50 times or so. It's not sitting on a desk, bolted in place, set-up just so, it lives inside a rolling toolbox that I take from site to site and then it gets taken out and put together each time. I started wondering what the duty cycle was on some of the components. How often can you remove the face-plate from the radio, how often should you connect the power lead in the life of the radio? What is the expected life of the antenna connector and the speaker jack? Until my antenna broke, none of these things had occurred to me. I just looked at my trusty little rig as an indestructible piece of kit. Now don't get me wrong. Connectors are not falling off, knobs are not loose and threads are not wearing out. That's not the point I'm making. What I'm attempting to point out is that you might use your equipment for many purposes in many different environments, or you might use it in one place for the rest of its life. One day you're going to introduce your kit with something on the wrong side of its operating envelope. When that happens, be prepared to learn something. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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CW Pileup
What use is an F-call? Recently I witnessed something quite amazing. I was at an Amateur Radio club relaxing and chatting with other amateurs. We were scattered throughout the clubhouse, several little groups of interest scattered around. People moving between groups as their interest changed and a whole dynamic ecology of knowledge was being distributed. There were radios set-up all over the place, an Oscilloscope was plugged into a kit to check its operation while the local club shop was open for business with connectors and adapters. It was a real hive of activity, BBQ going in the background and all. While all this was happening, a few amateurs gathered around a set and stopped talking. The radio was tuned to a station that was directing a pile-up. If you're unfamiliar, a pile-up is what happens when one station calls CQ and several stations respond. Then others hear the commotion and they join in, then more hear it and before you know it, there are 20 or 30 stations all on the same frequency, scattered all over the globe chiming in and exchanging signal reports. Now I've heard a few pile-ups like that. I had the joy of being the source of one of them during the International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend when the station I was operating seemed to be getting calls from all over the place for a solid 80 minutes or so. Back to the pile-up I was describing earlier, the one at the clubhouse. The thing that set this pile-up apart for me was that it was all done in Morse or in the vernacular, CW. It was the first time I'd heard Morse clustered like that. Until then I've heard the local repeater beep out its call, I've contributed my own in the form of pre-recorded audio at the top of What use is an F-call?, but this was quite something. You could hear differences in tonality, speed, how someone tapped their key, their difference in signal strength. Each signal had their own personal characteristic, unlike a voice pile-up where you can make out the odd call-sign, this seemed to be a whole lot more crisp affair. I'd already decided that I was going to spend some effort learning Morse, but this just made my day. If you get the chance to hear a CW pile-up, have a listen. You might not yet speak the lingo, but you'll hear more than you thought you would. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Troubleshooting
What use is an F-call? Troubleshooting is a skill that has to be learnt. Part of getting my Foundation License included a module on the skill. I've been working with complicated equipment for decades and to me, an amateur radio kit really isn't that complex. As you might know, I've got a portable kit. I've set it up at least 50 or so times in the last year. I know this system backwards, still every now and then something unexpected happens. Twice now, my own gear has surprised me. A couple of weeks ago I went on air to join a regular net. I tuned to the appropriate frequency and made my call, but I couldn't hear anyone. I called again, still nothing. I looked at the frequency, all as expected. The voltage was fine, I could see my SWR meter working as expected, when I keyed the mike, all was normal. I looked at the clock to make sure that I wasn't on the wrong time-zone. I turned up the volume, still nothing. I tuned to another frequency, nothing. In fact, apart from the fact that I knew the volume was up, there was remarkably little noise to be heard at all. Then I checked the squelch. Hmm, well, if you turn it all the way, then it won't let anything through. I fixed it, and low and behold, there everyone was. This morning, my tranceiver surprised me again, in a completely different way. My normal antenna mount is a mag-mount, but the connector came off last week, so I used a bracket instead, ran my normal RG58 back to my radio, plugged it in and had a listen. I tuned to the local Air Traffic Information Service to get the local weather and heard nothing, thought nothing of it, changed to my memories and hit scan. After a bit, I heard someone on the local repeater. I keyed my mike and the SWR went through the roof. That's weird. I thought about my antenna connection, I knew that the bracket end was tight, I'd just climbed up a ladder to make it so, but what about this end? All I'd done is plug in a BNC. What about the adapter that goes from BNC to N-type? Turns out it had come loose in transit. Tightened it up, tuned to the ATIS, heard that, tuned to the repeater and all was well. Just because you know it's right doesn't mean it really is. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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What do you want to do with your radio?
What use is an F-call? A recurring theme appears to be "What radio do I buy?" I asked another HAM and their breakdown went like this: Basically it's like Macintosh vs. Windows, or vi vs. emacs, or Holden vs. Ford, or Petrol vs. Diesel, or Gin vs. Tonic. Every person you ask will give you a different response. Instead of asking "What radio do I buy?" ask yourself another question: "What do I want to do with my radio?" In answering that question, you'll come across some suitable candidates. With your short-list in hand, do some research, ask other Amateurs and see what your supplier has access to. You'll get a much better outcome and end up with a radio you can use. Soooo, "What do I want to do with my radio?" The obvious response is "Everything!" Well, yes, but if you have a Foundation License, you cannot talk everywhere, you cannot use all modes and you can only use 10 Watts. You might live on a hill with nothing but farmland around, or you might live in an apartment with neighbours in all directions. You might have $100 to spend, or $5000, you may want to do contests or have your radio as a safety device, it might want to live in your car, or you might need to take public transport. You might want to talk to a local repeater, or you may want to work DX on HF. Each of those different answers requires a different radio. The more you can articulate what you want to do, and talking to other Amateurs is an excellent way to find out what there is to do, will give you a completely different answer. I purchased my radio because I wanted it to be all-bands, small and portable, but that's not necessarily you. So, think about what you want to do with your radio so you can decide what radio to get. As a final note. Each use scenario might call for a different radio, so don't be surprised if you end up with more than one - I know I'm beginning to see a trend - Hi Hi. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Propagation and Solar Flux
What use is an F-call? Some days you chew off more than you bargain for. Today I wanted to know a little more about propagation, the radio kind, not the plant variety. Four hours later I'm still reading. Everyone has an opinion, everyone's an expert and some people can even put together a coherent story on their web-site. What did I learn so-far? I didn't know that the Bureau of Meteorology has a Space Weather Branch, it's called IPS or the Ionospheric Prediction Service and their website is full of goodies. Then there's an article by Ian Poole, which appeared in the September 2002 edition of QST magazine, explaining how the Solar Flux, the K index and the A index affect your ability to talk to the other side of the world with your HF set. So, it seems that the numbers are related to things that affect each other. A high Solar Flux is good, but it's adversely affected by a high K index which in turn is represented as an average as an A index. Confused yet? So, the K index, runs between 0 and 9, 9 being a very major storm, 0 being Quiet. Quiet is good, storm is bad. The higher the Solar Flux, the better it is for higher HF frequencies. The Solar Flux needs to build up, takes a few days, so, you need Quiet and high Solar Flux for a few days and magic happens. I'm not confident enough with all this to tell you what to look for, but it seems that a Solar Flux of 150 or more for a few days with a K index below 2 will give you a good chance of getting some DX contact. Now I realise that this might just be gobbledygook for you, in fact, four hours ago, it was for me too, but now when someone talks about the Solar Flux being high, at least I have an idea of what on earth they're talking about. Next stop, figuring out how to read propagation maps. I'm Onno, VK6FLAB
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Tolerance
What use is an F-call? Tolerance has many definitions, one is: a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own. It's not a new concept, it's been around since the end of the Middle Ages. For some reason this week I had a wide spectrum of contacts within Amateur Radio, some great, some dissapointing. I had a debate on the merits or otherwise of the NBN, an email from a 14 year old F-call who is being ignored on air, a few posts from an Amateur friend in the transgender community and an email vociferating refugee payments. I find it curious that we as a community have a medium that ignores lines on a map, stronger still, encourages us to share experiences with amateurs around the world while having members act in an intollerant way toward others. I think that debate is good and required, but in such a debate it might be smart to use the same tennents we use on air. Listen more than you talk. Now you might ask yourself what on earth does this have to do with having an F-call? As we attract more people into the hobby we need to work to keep our community healthy and happy. I think we should encourage those around us to learn from the long history that Amateur Radio represents and perhaps encourage tolerance, as it is clear to me, has been the backbone of Amateur Radio since day one. Why does it matter? For one, your Amateur Radio signal goes outside the boundaries of this country. Sometimes it's heard across the planet, even into space. Sometimes your utterances will make it into the ears of people who have laws and customs completely different from yours. As you know, having an Amateur License is a privilege which works because there is global cooperation on the matter, but if we abuse our privilege, we'll soon learn how fragile cooperation becomes. The melting pot that Amateur Radio represents is a wonderful community. It has people from all walks of life with differeing opinions, life-styles and experiences. What attracted me to Amateur Radio was that those differences don't matter, we all have one thing in common, being Amateurs. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Tuning your tranceiver 1950's style
What use is an F-call? In the past I've talked about the history of Amateur Radio and how as a new participant it's easy to make the same mistakes as those who came before you because you don't yet know enough to ask the right questions, or the right place to look. Recently I had a conversation on air with an Amateur who had been fascinated with the hobby since the late 1940's, so over 60 years of experience in the field. At the time we were talking about inspiration, that is, what is it that inspired him to become part of the hobby. He told of a time when he built a kit and made a transmitter and it worked. He was hooked. And while that story continues on, I'm going to go sideways to show a little of the world and how it's changed in those 60 years. We're all familiar with the idea of going from horse and cart to the automobile. Unless you've actually sat in a cart and experienced it, it's still only sort of an understanding of the change and evolution. Right now, you're likely sitting next to a radio that has a VFO on it. Probably it's got a digital display of some kind, as you turn the VFO, the display indicates what frequency you're tuned to. The pre-cursor to this is a dial with frequencies indicated and a vernier that indicated what the dial was turned to. But there was a step before that. Imagine for a moment that you have a simple receiver. Its got a dial on it that is numbered 1 to 100. You can turn the dial and change its tuning frequency. To know what actual frequency its on, you look up the dial position in a calibration book. So, 39 might be 3.582 MHz. So, you set-up your simple receiver in such a way that you've got it set to the place where you're wanting to receive. Then, you turn on your transmitter and tune it to the same place. You know you're in the right place when the simple receiver starts to squeal and then when its tuned it's howling. Then, you turn on your receiver and tune that to the same place in the same way, you hear it squeal. Now you can actually key your morse or PTT key and start transmitting. Sound's like a lot more work than what you go through today. Here's something else. The simple receiver, it's called a wave meter and it's calibrated in a laboratory. Presumably the manufacturer has a set of crystals that oscillate on the appropriate frequency and the wave meter is calibrated and logs are taken to make the dial position co-inside with a known frequency. That's what it was like in 1950 to tune your radio. And here I am with a Yaesu 857d that fits in my hand, runs across multiple bands and transmits up to 100 Watts. Perhaps that's more illustrative than a horse and cart. That's history, right there. I'm Onno, VK6FLAB
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More Power
What use is an F-call? Recently I found myself discussing satellite communications with a group of Amateurs. It dawned on me that I had been using 1 Watt to transmit to geostationary orbit, more than 35,000km away. Compared to a circumnavigation of the earth at 40,000km, that's most of the way there. Yes, I know, there are no obstacles, it's basically focused line of sight, but you don't get ionosphere bounce or ducting either, so I figure, it all balances out in the long run. My point being that this is a QRP broadcast, less than 5 Watts and it gets into orbit, that's quite something if you think about it. I continue to hear amateurs complaining about how little power they have. It's not limited to Foundation Calls, I hear Standard licensees hanging out for their Advanced call so they can use more power and I hear Advanced calls complain that other countries can use a Kilowatt, so why can't we? What's next, a Megawatt, what about a Gigawatt Amateur Radio transmitter? While I completely understand the pull toward more power and I applaud those who are working to increasing our allocation, I don't really share the same need. To me it's a little like a Turbo button on an IBM PC, or souping up your car. I get that it's a challenge, I get that it can be fun and I get that it does more when it goes faster. I get that we learn from pushing the envelope and potentially breaking things. What I don't get it that there is the equivalent of disdain for those who try to achieve their aims using less power. To me the skill is getting the job done with as little power as possible. It's better for the bands, it's better for interference, power consumption, wear and tear, danger and all the other things that come from pushing more power. Why is it that more power is more important that less power? I'm Onno, VK6FLAB
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Experience
What use is an F-call? Recently I celebrated my birthday, my Amateur Radio Birthday that is. I've now had my license for 12 months and each time I go on air I find myself surrounded by people who know more than I do. It's great to be in a position where you're not the "expert". In my day-job, I'm a 30 year veteran in the field. Fortunately in Amateur Radio, there are others around with that same level of black magic voo-doo that makes a conversation go along a little like this: "How do I do this?" - "well, plug that into there and then flick that switch and it'll work." - "Cool, how did you know?" - "Well, when I was camped on the side of the road near Karratha in the 50's I had the same problem and this is how I fixed it." I find it difficult to express what it means to be able to talk to people who are able and willing to share their knowledge and experience. There is a level of awe - I've been on the receiving end of it in my own field, I recognize it, but it doesn't seem real - and a level of gratitude that the expert spent the time to explain. In my day job, more and more I find that the level of expertise and comprehension is declining. I suspect that there are Amateurs who believe that the Foundation License is an extension of that same phenomenon. Of course having such a license myself, I'm a little biased, but I'd like to observe that I actually paid for and attended a training course, read training materials, did a practical and theoretical test, paid for a license and had to go out, source my equipment, build some of it and make it all work. Although I think it's true that in a technical sense the world appears to be getting dumber, I'd like to challenge the notion that this is also the case in Amateur Radio. I think the only point you could make is that a Foundation License makes it possible for more people to participate, but that participation in itself is evidence that there is a certain level of thirst for learning and improvement. I've seen Foundation Licensees around me build antennas, investigate new technologies and ideas, research and publish - all fueled by their initial Foundation License. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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What have you shared lately?
What use is an F-call? Recently I had the opportunity to see a group of amateurs show and tell lots of little inventions, from antennas through measuring equipment, hand-made and historic. The atmosphere was electric, HAMs showing off their technical achievements. It was exciting to see the glint in the eye of each demonstrator, proudly sharing their accomplishments. I realized that in many places in life there is competition, even in Amateur Radio there are contests, but this was something else. This was an experience that highlighted to me what Amateur Radio is all about, figuring out how to achieve something and sharing it with others. I understand that you could think that this too could turn into a competition, but the web-sites I've seen in the past year contradict that notion. Everywhere I look there are people trying to share their knowledge, trying to make Amateur Radio a great place to be, telling stories, inventing things, making and building. All this is a run-up to something, a run-up to one question: "What have you shared lately?" If you received your license recently, you may think that you have nothing to share. Ironically that is absolutely untrue. You bring with you a new curiosity, a fresh set of inquisitiveness that you can share with fellow amateurs. You bring an excitement to the hobby that might assist experienced HAMs with a thrill of their own. So, don't be shy, young HAM or old hand, share and share alike. I'm Onno vk6flab
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Being Inventive
What use is an F-call? People are inventive, continually trying new things, solving problems, discovering new ones, making and breaking things, scratching an itch. Amateurs are no different. Well they are, but in essence they're no different from people. Amateurs just like to invent more stuff than the average person on the street. Meet any group of amateurs in the wild and before long you'll be embroiled in a discussion about how to solve a problem that is bugging one of you. There will be hand-waving, charts, calculators and good cheer to fill up the room. If you're new to Amateur Radio, you might find yourself overwhelmed by all this interaction. All you did was get your shiny new license and turn up. Now all these experts are jabbering on about stuff you know next to nothing about. Ironically, if you stop and think about it for a moment, you'll quickly come to the realization that this is true for everyone in the room. Some people did this yesterday, others last year, and some have been around since before you were born. The only trick in interacting with these people is to ask questions. Hearing a new Amateur on-air is a similar experience. What do you talk about and how do you avoid looking silly? I can't help with looking silly, but wearing a clown-costume on air is generally not a problem, since we're really only working with audio. More seriously, looking silly is in they eye of the beholder, if your intent is to learn, there can be no place for looking silly. So, my advice to you is to walk into the room or push your talk button and have a go. Ultimately, this hobby contains many different people, some of whom are going to share many of your interests. I'm Onno - VK6FLAB
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Faith and Generosity
What use is an F-call? Recently I heard an f-call ask on-air about the performance of their HF antenna. It reminded me that in order for any learning to occur, there needs to be two elements that come together. While it's simple to ask questions among your friends, it takes a leap of faith to ask a stranger. So, one of the elements you need is a Leap of Faith, "I have a problem and I wonder if anyone might be able to help." For this leap of faith to pay off, you also need to gain access to the knowledge required to solve your problem. It can come in many guises, from "read the manual", through "I have done that and I solved it like this." to "Let me come over and give you a hand." The second element that is needed is Generosity. The interesting part for me is how the discussion opens up many possibilities when experienced people enter the conversation. It's one thing to acknowledge the original Leap but two inexperienced people talking to each other about a problem when neither of them have more than rudimentary understanding is less than satisfying, both for the two people and for any listeners on frequency. I'm glad to say that in this particular case some personal skill and knowledge was added to the discussion by some experienced hams, but I've also heard discussions where the blind were leading the blind. While it is possible that a question is asked by a novice f-call and answered by an experienced advanced-call, that is not always the case. In fact to me it seems, more often than not, the level of license bears little relation to a person's level of experience. Amateur Radio is like an aural history, made of story tellers and listeners. If you don't tell your stories pretty soon you'll run out of listeners and the history dies. So, no matter your place, taking a Leap of Faith, or providing Generosity, remember that in order for the hobby to endure we need to keep talking. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Public Relations
What use is an F-call? Recently I was sitting on a plane talking to a person whom I had just met. We were discussing our interests and experience and the subject of Amateur Radio came up. There was the obligatory CB radio comment and some discussion about marine radio, but the discussion boiled down to this: "What's the point?" I eased into the subject by observing that as a hobby I found it to be technically challenging without it having a direct relationship to my day-job in IT. We discussed the ideas that embody the hobby, non-commercial use, experimentation, discovery, camaraderie. We talked about the natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the Boxing Day Tsunami, the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan and the subsequent issues with their nuclear power plant. I explained about making contacts and exchanging information, call-signs, signal reports, dealing with electricity and backup batteries and the like. The conversation went for about an hour, we talked about the SES, about HF long distance contacts, the solar cycle, the ionosphere, experiments and the development of technologies like the mobile phone. The thing that struck me during this conversation, looking at the topics we discussed, some in passing, some in-depth (well, to the depth of my eclectic knowledge at least), that Amateur Radio touches a lot of aspects of society. I used to think that IT was the only field that impacted the world every where in every which way. Now I'm not so sure. Amateur Radio to me appears to have dibs on a large chunk. I supposes I'm saying that Amateur Radio has a public relations issue, people don't know it exists, yet it affects their lives in ways that most never even notice. Perhaps all this just relates to my better understanding of the Radio Frequency spectrum and my personal part in the puzzle, but I think society would benefit from at least a smidgen of the understanding that comes with having an Amateur License. If you have thoughts on the matter, I'd love to hear from you. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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The spark of curiosity.
What use is an F-call? Recently I had the opportunity to see some amateurs operating a special event station. Among the operators were a few young faces who had come into the hobby via the Scouts. Chatting away without a worry in the world I thought about an incident that I experienced a few months ago. At the time I was set-up with my kit, parked, sitting in my car with my squid-pole making a 12 meter tall beacon for all manner of interested people to come past and ask me what I was catching with my fishing rod - which generally resulted in a good natured ribbing and a conversation about Amateur Radio, talking across the world, not unlike CB radio, building stuff and having fun. Contrast this with a man and his two young charges who wide eyed approached and shuffled about wanting to ask questions. The man was not nearly as interested, in fact his whole demeanour was negative from the start. "What is that?" the young ones asked. "Well it's a big radio antenna that I use to talk to people across the world." His response was: "I don't need that, I have a mobile phone." "Well, yes, but this will work in places and at times that a mobile won't." "Well, I don't need that." And with that the man stalked off towing his charges with him. The thing that struck me in this interaction was that his charges were all but crestfallen. I wondered what their life might look like if the people around them had a sense of wonder and curiosity. It occurrs to me that the Amateurs I've met all appear to have that spark of curiosity and I wondered how many of them had noticed it. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Setup Remote once in a While
What use is an F-call? Recently I had the opportunity to setup my radio in the bush. Having been around the metropolitan area for most of my Amateur Life to-date, that was a whole new, and I might say, very positive experience. Laying out radials across the landscape was a challenge and having set-up against the corner of the veranda of the house where I was staying meant that I could only put them out in 270 degrees, the owner frowning on the notion of running 12 meter radials through the house for some reason. The silence was amazing, no man-made noise, no clicking or buzzing from nearby appliances, overall worth the effort! Honesty requires me to point out that the local atmospherics conspired to actually making contacts on 80 and 40 meters nigh-on impossible. At the time I was unable to determine what caused the problem and research since then indicated all manner of possible causes, ranging from background cosmic noise to the LCD TV in the next room with several other options in between. Armed with that knowledge I'll spend some effort hunting next time around. I can recommend that you pick up your radio once in a while, put it in your preferred mode of transport and place yourself in another location to experience other conditions. It's a learning opportunity every time. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Same Old Story
What use is an F-call? I keep having the same conversation, almost word-for-word, over and over again. I cannot do anything with just 10 Watts, it's not enough, it's useless, I cannot make any contacts, no-one hears me, I'm wasting my time. The United Arab Emirates and Denmark, two countries far from our shores. Seemingly these two have nothing in common, other than that we share our globe with their citizens. However, these two countries were contacted by an F-call last week with a 4/9 signal report. This time it wasn't me making the contact it was another station who is free to brag about their contact to the community. I'm bring it up here because it's not just me saying that you can make contacts, it's not just me making contacts, there are many amateurs who on a daily basis make contacts across the planet. Some of them hold a foundation license. What it takes to achieve is some patience and a dose of luck. Neither of which are hard to come by or hard to achieve. Sitting at the radio for a few hours will likely get you a result. Don't despair if it doesn't, try again, try a different band, check your radio settings, is your antenna pointing in the right direction? Is it connected? See if you can make a local contact and nut out if there are ways to improve your signal. It keeps coming back to the same thing. Amateur Radio isn't an Instant Gratification kind of activity. It's one where some preparation and patience goes a long way. If you're looking for a quick fix, get on the Internet. If you want to get a sense of personal achievement, try making a long distance contact. There are amateurs on air all day long calling CQ, just waiting for a call from a station on the other side of the globe - this is your domain as much as it is theirs. I cannot make you push the PTT button, but I can encourage you to have a go. I've seen a ten year old key the mike like an old hand, if he can do it, so can you. It won't bite! I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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Whom have you inspired lately?
What use is an F-call? It's good to get inspiration and it arrives in the strangest ways at the most unexpected time. I've been pretty busy in my non-amateur radio activities over the past months. Not that you'd notice, a bit like a duck floating on a lake, the picture of serenity itself, furiously paddling under water. I have a regular activity, the VK6 F-troop which I host on behalf of Foundation Licensees across VK6 every Saturday at 8am local time. It forces me to turn my radio on and gives me an opportunity to talk to other amateurs on at the very least a weekly basis. One of the amateurs, Ronald VK6FRSK continues to throw new ideas and experiments into the air and every now and then one of them speaks to me at an unexpected level. Ronald reported listening and attempting to talk to overflying satellites and the International Space Station with a rubber-ducky antenna which gave me an unexpected thrill. I tuned to an ISS frequency and almost without effort managed to hear it overhead. I didn't have more time spare to do anything else, but just the thrill of hearing that gave me inspiration and it was just a little thing! So, if you've done something, heard something, learnt something, tell another amateur about it, not to brag, though that's always fun, just to inspire the next experiment when it seems hard to see the wood for the trees. So, whom have you inspired lately? I'm Onno - VK6FLAB
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Encourage F-calls
What use is an F-call? Amateur Radio is a moving feast of people, coming and going, gaining interest, loosing interest, having time, running out of time. Every week there are people joining and people leaving the hobby. Fortunately the Foundation License seems to be increasing the size of the hobby quicker than the number of people leaving through choice or not. One of the things that strikes me is that there is a small group of amateurs with foundation licenses who can be heard on-air, but there is a large contingent of licensees that are hardly ever heard from. Of course it's possible that some of those F-calls never even purchased a radio, or that their circumstances changed by the time their license came through, but overall I'd expect to hear more people on air than I do. So what is stopping those new amateurs from participating? Why are they shy to push on their magical microphone key and have a go? Rather than answering the question, perhaps you might ask yourself if there is anything that you could be doing that might encourage new licensees to join in the fun and become active participants in the hobby. It's not for me to dictate how you might go about achieving that, but I always have suggestions - I'm never short of a word and you might have guessed. For one, leaving a break between each over is an excellent way to let newcomers feel like you care enough about them to let them join in. One amateur I spoke with suggested that you put your microphone down after your over which forces you to pick it up with the associated delay, leaving a space for another station to chime in with their contribution. Not that I'm suggesting that amateurs talk over the tail of each other, or anything like that - hi hi. Perhaps there are other tips you have to contribute. I'm Onno - vk6flab
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Antennas
What use is an F-call? A recurring theme in my conversations with other amateurs is the term Antenna, closely followed by "more power". At some point in the not too distant future I'm going to set-up two identical radios and do some power tests with the help of another amateur. In the mean time, I cannot do anything else but re-state, "It's not the power but what you do with it that matters." said in another way, "It's not what you put in to the antenna that matters, it's what comes out of the antenna that counts." So, as I said, a recurring theme, Antennas. My antenna works for me in my context, that is, in the way that I use my radio, my antenna works for me. It may well work for you too. Ironically, the internet is full of people who have built their own antenna and have gone to the trouble of describing what they built, the things they learnt and the traps they fell into. In my search for a patch-lead for my mobile wi-fi hotspot I came across a page from VK4ION who's page describes creating a NextG yagi for his Internet connection. It's typical of pages on the 'net, $10 worth of parts and you have a yagi that out-performs something you spend $200 bucks on from the "professionals". VK4ION used a design based on one from VK7JJ, and he in turn based his on a design from now Silent Key, W4RNL. My point is this: "You can find an antenna design to suit your needs anywhere you care to look." My very first antenna was a piece of wire that I stuck in the air, connected to an antenna tuner. I based my design on nothing more than the notion that of all the designs to choose from, this was the simplest to make. It turns out that I was wrong, there are even simpler designs to be had. My second design was two bits of wire soldered onto a BNC connector strung in the air with a piece of coax running back to my radio, no antenna tuner in sight. Right now I'm pretty happy with my HF vertical. I'm in the process of making some di-poles of varying length that I intend to take with me in my go-kit, each tucked away in a 35mm film roll cannister - quick to hand, simple to use, easy to fix and cheap. All great characteristics of a home-brew antenna. While my VHF and UHF antenna is a manufactured contraption that currently suits me well, I have no doubt that in my munificent spare time, that too will be subjected to experimentation. I've got a huge collection of articles on my to-read pile and I suspect that once I've actually read them, the next questions will begin to occur. Sounds like fun to me, making something out of nothing. I'm Onno, VK6FLAB
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How did you get into Amateur Radio?
What use is an F-call? In my day-to-day environment I meet lots of different people. Many of them are not Amateurs. In fact, most of them are not Amateurs. That's not to say that I cannot see that some of those people could be, and some have Amateur written all over their forehead without ever realising it. Now it's not for me to tell you to go out and convert people to Amateurs, that's your job - Hi Hi. What I'd like to look at is, "What is it that brought you into Amateur Radio?" I've said in the past that for me it came as a surprise. I knew two people, one of whom was a "known Amateur" the other not. I'd never talked about Amateur Radio with either of them. The person who is the "known Amateur" has had their license for many years, as long as I've known them, 20-odd years, likely longer, I've never gotten around to asking. The other "secret Amateur" was the one who is responsible for me becoming aware of this hobby. It all started pretty innocently, here's a WiFi Quad-Copter, with an Amateur Radio license we might be able to extend its range to something useful. It went in a whirlwind from there. Since I became an Amateur, I've been fascinated with how people became involved in Amateur Radio. For some of those, the incentive was lost in the history of time. For others it's fresh as the ink on their license. One Amateur I spoke with talked about how Amateur Radio was their opportunity to first step in a very challenging and rewarding hobby. Bounce signals off the moon, talk to people of all ethnicities, social positions, religions, colours, creeds etc. Join a group of earth people that have few boundaries. They wistfully added, "Maybe this is just one of the seeds of the 'world race'." Your reason for joining Amateur Radio likely looks nothing like any of the ideas or reasons I've just mentioned, perhaps you have a distinct first memory. Perhaps you might consider how you got the Amateur Radio Bug and how that might relate to the people around you. Perhaps you'll find new Amateurs in unexpected places, or find old friends where you never looked before. I'm Onno, VK6FLAB
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Ask around, QRP is not futile
What use is an F-call? Recently I had a discussion with a Foundation Licensed amateur who told me that he'd had some limited success making contacts using 10 Watts, but that he longed to have more power to get out and make better contacts. While I understand the sentiment, I know from personal experience that it just isn't true. You don't need oodles of power to smack the audio against the receiver at the other end. What you need is propagation and you need a set-up that works. Now I'd be the first to admit that propagation is a bit of a mystery to me at the best of times, but my solution to that is to sit tight, listen and when lots of stations turn up at my door-step as it were - that is, I can hear lots of people calling - I've got a great chance at getting through. What was a little more baffling to me was that this amateur, as I said, an F-Call had not really found a way to discuss his issues with any other amateurs. He'd been pretty isolated and only in discussing the issue with other F-Calls did he start investigating further. I'd like to encourage you to ask around. Look who else is on air near you and talk to them about what you're seeing. The more people you talk to, the more you learn and the more you have a chance of getting to the magic point where you can get those elusive contacts on HF using your F-Call. As I've said in the past, and I'll continue to say, power is not the answer, what you do with what you have is what makes the difference. Low power operation does not need to be a frustrating exercise in futility, QRP stations are doing this all the time. Mostly it's a matter of attitude. Don't be shy. The amateurs around you who have their standard or advanced license needed to learn their craft too. I'm Onno, VK6FLAB
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You have a license, now what?
What use is an F-call? When I came out of the examination room where I'd just passed my Foundation License, after the obligatory congratulations and back slaps, I walked out into the sun and wondered: "Now what?" At the time I knew two Amateurs and had met the people in my classroom. Since then I've become an active participant in Amateur Radio. Recently I was having lunch with some other Amateurs and we were talking about how their journey evolved from graduation to their current level of involvement. The key was "Information". I've talked here about how I went about selecting a radio, an antenna and the like, but there was a step before that, one that each new Amateur needs to make and that is finding the community. Ironically, while you're listening to this, you've already found us, you already have a link to other Amateurs, but you might have graduated with other people who are not so fortunate, so firstly I'd like to encourage you to contact those people and link up with them. Of course listening to me talking is not really interaction and I'm not the fountain of knowledge. Instead I'd encourage you to seek out other sources of information. The obvious ones are clubs and the Internet, but less obvious ones exist in the form of Amateurs who've been around the block more than a few times. Having lunch with Amateurs who have had their license as long as you've been alive is an interesting pass-time, especially when the guy on the other side pipes up and confesses that he has had his license longer than your parents have been alive. This Amateur Radio caper is a hobby, it's fun, it's a diversion from your day-to-day life and an opportunity to learn new things from new people. Keep your eyes and ears open and soon you too will start finding other like minded individuals. In the mean time, listen to the Amateur Radio news, participate in online fora, visit local clubs and remember that this hobby touches all walks of life across the globe. Enjoy. I'm Onno - VK6FLAB Past editions of What use is an f-call can be found online at harg.org.au under F-troop.
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There is room for experimentation in this hobby.
What use is an F-call? When I passed my Foundation License test I spent some months researching what equipment to buy, where to buy it from and how to configure it after I bought it. In case you're wondering, I ended up with a Yaesu 857D with a Diamond SG-7200 dual band antenna and an SGC SG-237 antenna tuner for HF. I'm not mentioning those things as a recommendation, nor am I telling you about them because I think that's the best solution. I'm telling you about them to indicate that I purchased all my gear, straight from retailers, and now use the resulting kit as my station. Last week I was at a club meeting where an Amateur of many, many years experience was holding a talk about VHF and UHF antennas that you can build in your kitchen with parts from your local hardware store. The excitement that this amateur had for making all manner of antennas was clearly evident and I came to realise that my path of buying all my gear, while successful in terms of making it on-air also left something behind, experimentation. For months I've experimented with cables, connectors, batteries and locations. At a certain level I was "experimenting", making audio interfaces, battery leads, RF cables, etc. but this talk highlighted something for me personally that showed that until now I've not scratched the surface of experimentation. My foundation license allows me to only use commercially produced transceivers, but it says nothing about anything connected to it. The talk showed that there is an infinite variety of antenna technology available and being produced and invented new each day. Some amateurs talk about a shed full of failed attempts and a little corner with some successes. After being introduced to the beginnings of making my own antenna, I'm hooked. I'm sure I'll be spending at least some of my Amateur Radio time building antennas and learning from the experience. Perhaps one day I'll inspire the next person to build their own antenna too. In the mean time I'm looking forward to learning from the Amateurs that went before me. I'm Onno - VK6FLAB
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Share your Hobby Around
What use is an F-call? Recently I was talking to a non-amateur about Amateur Radio. You know the kind of conversation, sitting around a coffee-table, talking about life, hobbies, etc. I mentionned that I was getting out and about meeting people in Amateur Radio, participating in events, learning and generally having a great time. The person I was talking to immediately responded with: "That's all too technical for me, I could never do that." And thus began a conversation that went for an hour or so on how radio works, what wave-length and frequency were, how sound is transmitted, how an antenna works, how you get a license, how much it costs and many of the mechanics related to our hobby. At no point did we talk about Ohms, or impedence or electronics as such, it was more along the lines of throwing a pebble into a lake, but at the end of the discussion there was a great deal of demystification that had taken place. It has taken a little while for me to realise, but the demystification is what hooked me in the first place. My introduction to Amateur Radio was sitting at a dinner table with a bunch of computer geeks one of whom was, and still is, an Amateur. I'll protect her identity - she knows who she is - Hi Hi - but the introduction to the hobby was sideways, in that we started with WiFi to control a quad-copter and the potential for using an Amateur Radio license to increase power and control this device from further away. The quad-copter WiFi project is still in the back of my mind - and I must stress that I've not investigated in any way, bands, power, etc. My point is that I came across a hobby while I was looking elsewhere. I know that some feel that our hobby is in decline, that the average age of Amateurs is increasing, but I'd like to point out that we as a society are getting more and more technology in our lives, more and more exposure to ideas and inventions that have a basis in Amateur Radio, more and more accessible to more and more people. Our hobby isn't in decline. It's easy to talk to other Amateurs, it's hard work talking to the rest of the world. Navel gazing is less work than standing up and looking around. I'd encourage you to consider other groups you're a member of, be it sailing, caravanning, computers, golf or fishing. People are social beings. They want to talk about things that are new and exciting, interesting, captivating. Share your experiences around, be as enthusiastic as you are in your shack, share the twinkle in your eye. You might be surprised. I'm Onno - vk6flab
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Contests
What use is an F-call? Recently I participated in my first amateur radio contest. In short, it was a blast! One thing I noticed was that several amateurs I speak to on-air regularly were not there and I'd heard a few people say that "Contesting is not my thing". I respect that, but I'm also a little disappointed by it because it was a lot of fun. I started thinking about it a little and wondered what else might be occurring that could account for some of this. I'm sure that part of it is that you might not actually have ever participated in a contest and it might be that you have no idea how it works, so you feel left out before you begin. Let me give you a fly-over view of a contest, not a specific one, just the notion of what's happening on air. The idea is that you count and log your contacts. Every time you make a new contact, you log the time and date, frequency and mode and of course the call-sign of the station you contacted. You also give the other station a unique number and they give you one in return. The number is the count of contacts you've done at that time. You log the number with each contact. For example, and I'm stressing here that this is just an example. If I go on air and say: CQ Contest, CQ Contest, vk6flab listening. I'll get back a call, vk6bdo. I'll say, vk6bdo, this is vk6flab with 012 for you. The response will come back: vk6flab, vk6bdo, QSL 012, I give you 413. I'll say QSL 413, Happy Hunting, vk6flab listening. What I've just done is sent 012 to vk6bdo and they've sent 413 back to me. My next number will be 013 and theirs will be 414. That's it. I should note that contests have rules that are published prior to the event, such as how points are allocated, whom you're allowed to talk to in which mode on what frequency, etc. Each contest is different, all dependent on why the contest is being held. Now I've said that this is an example. You'll note that there are some extra words in the interaction. I say for example, "Happy Hunting". That's completely superfluous. If you're a die-hard contester, you'll probably be horrified. My take on it is that to become a die-hard, you need to start somewhere and you need to realise that there are humans on the end of each contact. One of the things I took away from my contest participation is a sense of community. I spoke with 70 different stations within 24 hours. Some contacts were strictly business, others were more involved. I got compliments for hitting my first 10 contacts, my first 50, etc. There was an ongoing camaraderie that encouraged people to participate. I spoke with stations towards the end of the contest who had just made 4 contacts, and I was one of them. I felt humbled by their participation. Of course there were stations with over 600 contacts, and talking to them was a different kind of thrill. While I completely understand that "Contesting is not your thing", I'd encourage you to participate and have a go, you might be surprised. I'm Onno, vk6flab.
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Repeating History
What use is an F-call? In 1905 George Santayana said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." If you're new to Amateur Radio like me, you don't remember the past because you don't know it. While I could dig up the history going back to 1900 or so, I'll encourage you instead to let your fingers do that walking and read that on the Internet yourself. One particularly interesting document I stumbled on is called "History of Radio call-signs in Australia", a must read. Having just received my foundation license, I was unaware how recent the development of an f-call actually is. In May 2004 the ACMA published a report on the "Outcomes of the Review of Amateur Service Regulation" which among many outcomes recommended the introduction of an entry-level licensing option in Australia, similar to the foundation license in the UK. The submissions at the time, over two-thirds in favour of a foundation licensing option, cited the need to make the amateur service more accessible to potential amateurs. There were other outcomes which you can read online. On 21 October 2005 the ACMA issued the first Foundation Licence, VK4FRST to Amanda who still holds that license today. In 2005, the Foundation license looked slightly different to what it does today. At the time, you were permitted 3 Watts for FM, AM and CW broadcasts and 10 Watts for SSB. This changed on the 3rd of February 2006 when the ACMA notified the WIA that 10 Watts was allowed on all permitted emission modes for a Foundation License. Now I was never going to be giving you a history lesson, you knew that from the start. What I was trying to point out is that the privileges we enjoy today come from a background of development, driven by Amateurs, like yourself, asking questions and making recommendations. It comes from input from the Wireless Institute of Australia, it comes from developments overseas. Next time you key your microphone, think about what went before, and if you're not sure, spend an hour online and have a read. I'm sure you'll find things you didn't know. Perhaps you'll be inspired to write down and document some of your own achievements. One thing's for certain. If it's not written down, it didn't happen and if that's the case, no-one will know if they're repeating the same lesson you just learnt. I'm Onno, vk6flab
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Participation is a Promise made
What use is an F-call? Participation is a Promise made. Now what do I mean by that? A little while ago I was listening to a conversation on HF, I cannot recall the exact band, but the conversation took in amateurs across much of the country. It had been going for about 20 minutes and a new participant, an f-call, asked for a transmission report from the assembled group. The f-call, likely a new participant apologised for butting in and also commented that he was broadcasting outside his band - which at the time I checked and as far as I could tell, he wasn't. The group ignored the out-of-band comment and several dutifully and helpfully responded with their various signal reports but after about 5 minutes, the tone of the conversation changed and statements about power levels and abuse were being made. This turned into accusations about using excess power, about using 100 Watts to get across the country, about how an f-call was abusing the airwaves, mind you most of it was innuendo, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. After about 15 minutes of increasing discussion a new station was heard, who commented that he had some 14,000 contacts on his books and that when his license was still drying he too had been accused of exceeding his legal 28 Watt limit. Unbeknownst to him, several amateurs descended on his shack at the time, measured his output and found it to be 27 Watts. He pointed out that while there were going to be cases where people exceeded their privileges, it shouldn't be the first thing that came to mind when a particular contact was made. The station also complemented the f-call on their setup and wished them well with their contacts. His comments lasted for some 5 minutes and the group subdued almost immediately. At the time I wondered if those who'd previously been accusing the f-call had forgotten what QRP, broadcasting with 10 Watts or less SSB, is all about and I wondered if there might be value in encouraging participation in QRP contests. In case you're wondering, an f-call is really a QRP station. While I know how easy it is to change the power setting on my radio, and how easy it might be to get away with doing that, it doesn't mean that because you can, you will. Under the instruction of an advanced licensee I've changed the power setting on my radio as well, only to find that the extra power made little or no difference whatsoever. I've played with antennas and noticed that it's not how much power you have, but what you do with it that determines the outcome of the contact. As I've said in the past, I've talked to the USA on 10 Watts in amazed reply to their 450 Watts. I'm sure that there are times that extra power will get you where you need to go, but I think we should also remember that each of us, regardless of our license, has the ability to borrow, buy or build a massive amplifier and hook that up to our radio. Just because we can, doesn't mean we do. Ultimately, you're in control of your own radio and your own responsibilities and license conditions. You are ultimately the one who knows if you did the right thing or not. Of course if you abuse your privileges, consequences will result. I started with Participation is a Promise made. When you get your license and your kit and start broadcasting, you are participating in the Amateur Radio community. Your license stipulates that you shall only broadcast on certain frequencies, with a certain mode and power level. As a licensee, that's what you promise to do. Let's give people the benefit of doubt and encourage their legal participation, rather than accusing them on-air about their perceived misdeeds. I'm Onno, vk6flab
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The nature of this hobby
What use is an F-call? Recently I got to thinking about this hobby of Amateur Radio. It's not like any other hobbies I've had in the past. It's different in so many ways that it took me a little by surprise. When I played with lego, electric trains or on my home computer in my teens, I was a hobbyist. I spent time, effort and money on my hobbies. When I came across another enthusiast, I exchanged ideas and findings and carried on with what I'd learned. Sometimes we combined efforts and I recall making a huge railway yard in the attic with about six friends, each of our tracks hand-marked to prevent inadvertent ownership transfer. With the age of the Internet, you'd expect that you'd see an evolution beyond that. You'd see people getting together in communities and sharing their hobby. While this does happen, much more than when I was a teenager, there are hundreds of places for each hobby, most of them insular and self-contained, region specific, language specific, what ever. Amateur Radio is different. We have a scarce resource that is shared around the globe, our radio bands. When I first turned on my radio I recall thinking that these bands were huge, infinite, there was just so much to choose from, how would I ever find anyone? Turns out, running your finger over your VFO, or programming your radio to do it for you, gives you a great sense of what's happening where and when. It turns out that as you start using the bands, you realise that these huge bands are not infinite at all. During some parts of the day, some of these bands are not helpful in getting radio signals out across the countryside. Turns out that people become grouped together in smaller bands at different times of the day. The side effect of this is that all the people with this hobby are all in the same place at the same time. More or less anyway. You get my point, we're all talking together in the same place, all of us, so we have a built-in system to make us participate with each other in the same place. Of course it helps that a large part of Amateur Radio is to do with communication, so not only do we congregate, we also talk. Other aspects of this hobby that took me by surprise are that it's more encompassing than other hobbies. Amateur Radio is about communication and all that this embodies. It's about learning skills, it's about socialising, it's about building and testing, it's about competitions, about professionalism, it's unlike any other hobby I've participated in. I've had my license for about a minute and a half, but one thing I realised today is that I'd never heard of Amateur Radio in any meaningful sense until a month before I got my license. I'm technically minded, have worked in broadcast radio for many years, I'm heavily involved in Information Technology, do Research and Development daily and talk to many people about skill development, training and communication. I've been self-employed for over a decade, but I'd never heard of Amateur Radio. Imagine that. One realisation I came to is that I'm not alone in this historic lack of knowledge about Amateur Radio. I think that going out on Field Days with a club, going into the community, finding other like-minded individuals and getting them excited about Amateur Radio is going to open up a whole new group of Amateurs. For me, I've already started creating a list of clubs and communities I'm aware of, or even a member of and I've started thinking about how to communicate about this hobby, what it means for the individual participating and for the community in which that individual lives - because let's not forget that Amateur Radio is also about the wider community. Amateur Radio, what a hobby. Tell your friends. I'm Onno, vk6flab
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Education of your community
What use is an F-call? An article in the local paper caught my eye. It described a scenario where a local amateur with a 15m antenna mast was in the process of dealing with a local council who apparently changed their mind about the rules which govern the installation of the mast. There were quotes from neighbours who didn't like the eye-sore and it looks like this might be a challenge. While I'm not a neighbour of this amateur, I did wonder if their community was aware of the wider community role that amateurs have to play in all manner of situations. I thought about the Boxing Day Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Japanese Earthquake and subsequent Tsunami. In each of these disasters critical infrastructure such as power and communications was wiped out in the affected areas. In each of these areas local radio amateurs provided critical assistance for search and rescue and other life extending situations. I wondered if the local community where this amateur lives was aware that amateurs can, have and will provide these critical services in case modern infrastructure ceases operation and I wondered if we as amateurs pro-actively go outside and talk to other members of the community and share some of this knowledge and information. If we ignore these pushes for removal of so called eye-sores, there will come a time where the local amateur radio enthusiast is unable to assist their community because they simply have no infrastructure left to operate their station. One day the question will come: "Where are all the amateurs?" As a foundation class licensee you have access to a whole raft of information, skills and if you have your kit, hardware, to communicate this to your local community. As a group, we amateurs have skills that might seem outdated, obsolete and out of touch with the Internet connected world today as seen from the perspective of an uninformed public. The reality is that this community of amateurs can and will step in to assist that community if and when the need arises. In case you're wondering how what you do on air relates to any of what I'm talking about, making contacts, exchanging information, dealing with changing conditions, setting up your station, and doing the things you do as an amateur radio enthusiast, are immediately relevant to emergency communications. You may not be aware of it, but you are uniquely qualified to assist where communications are essential. Just because the mobile phone network works today, doesn't mean that it will continue to work across all situations. I regularly take my kit on the road to setup my station, in fact, my station is designed to be portable for exactly this reason. Each time I setup my station I learn a little more about things to consider, spares to have on hand, cables I should remember to pack, etc. If you have the ability, I highly recommend that you take your station outside and set it up with limited infrastructure. I'm sure you'll learn something which will be of use at some time in the future. I'm Onno, vk6flab
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Practice makes Perfect
What use is an F-call? Nothing, nothing at all. Well, that is, unless you practice. You're sure to have heard the expression, practice makes perfect. In any environment, learning about the task at hand is only a very small part of the process. The learning part for an f-call for me was spent listening to a very entertaining lecture over a weekend. There was a practical component to be sure - I keyed the microphone a couple of times, adjusted a radio, used a multi-meter and connected a PL259 to it's SO239. The vast majority of time was spent reading, listening and looking at diagrams. Another weekend and a few exams and I had a foundation license. My official practical "air-time" could be counted in minutes on the fingers of one hand. So, why do I sound so confident on air today, if all of my practical time was so short? Well, I've had experience and practice in another area. I've conducted some 1500 radio interviews, lasting from 5 to 30 minutes each, so my "air-time" is a little higher than five minutes. I also have an aviation radio license which forced me to learn my phonetic alphabet. This means that I will sound confident on air, but it doesn't mean that I have lots of practical experience in all of the Amateur Radio field. I know that this is an issue, so I set out to practice lots. In different situations and environments, different radios, different locations, different people around, different power, antenna, etc. I try to go out of my way learning about the impacts of settings, connectors, etc. I read the user manual of my radio. I read articles on-line, the IARU Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur, you name it, I'll have a go at reading it. I was loaned a copy of the Department of Civil Aviation Technical Training Section on Transmission Lines and Wave Guides and for light reading I plan to at least get the gist of what is being discussed. While I realise that I'm possibly a little eccentric in my thirst for information, you might want to start your own path towards this. I started with "Practice makes Perfect" and in a technical hobby such as Amateur Radio, that is the best advice I can give you. Key your mike, terminate a patch-lead, make an antenna, mount a mast, do it all. If you're not handy, that's you're not really sure of how to crimp a connector, or how to cut a cable, ask another amateur or join an amateur radio club and ask there during practical sessions. It's easy to sound confident, to look confident, to be confident if you practice. A teenage friend of mine commented recently that they were not sure if they made the right decision. I pointed out that learning is all about making decisions, both good ones and bad ones. One final comment. While this is Amateur Radio, that doesn't mean that you cannot be professional in your approach. What I mean is that, the Amateur component of Amateur Radio refers to Commercial Use, not the professionalism of the participants. Be prepared, practice and most of all, have fun - this is a hobby after all. I'm Onno, vk6flab
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What to buy and how much to spend?
What use is an F-call? So, you've got your shiny new f-call license. Now what? Where do you go to get your kit, what do you buy, how much should you spend? Let me start with the amount of money you should spend. It's your hobby, your wallet and your budget. You can get a radio for $20, or $2000, it all depends on how much you can afford. What I can tell you about money is that the radio is only one part of the purchase. If I look at my own set-up, less than 30% of what I spent went to the radio. My antenna represents nearly 40%, Power Supply comes in at 20%, the balance was spent on tools like a crimper and accessories like a remote microphone. I must point out that this is for a set-up that can work all bands. The antenna part of the budget consists of two antennas, a ready-made one and an antenna tuner, squid-pole, mount and a home-made ground-plane and antenna wire. I thought that it would be interesting to gather some statistics from other amateurs and I've put up a survey on the HARG site (under the F-troop section) at harg.org.au to gather some data on this to see if what I spent was as representative as I think it is. Based on the results so-far, I spent less than the average on my radio and more on my antenna and as I suspected, I spent too much money on my power supply - the one I don't use very often, but I have two; batteries and 240V regulated, so we'll see how that turns out for me. Feel free to fill in the survey and see how your spend compares to that of the average. The purpose of me telling you all of this is to give you a sense of how much of your budget might be allocated to different parts. As one respondent to the survey said: "What budget?" Again, this is your hobby, your wallet and your decision. You can spend as much or as little as you want. For me, I spent lots on my antenna because I figured I'd be broadcasting with 10 Watts, I'd better make sure it actually gets out. I already spend much time experimenting with other amateurs, their radios and antennas. I expect to do more of it. Back to the topic at hand - what do you buy and where? The two are related. I could spend the next hour telling you about all the places you should look, but that list is ever changing. A better way to do this is to talk to other amateurs and discuss this with them. There are many web-sites that have amateur radio reviews and opinions which will give you a guide as to where to look and where to avoid. Personally, I purchased from several suppliers and used the eHam web-site as a guide to getting a range of views on a particular piece of kit. I'm not going to highlight any particular supplier, other than to say that I purchased all my kit, except for my crimping-tool, locally here in Australia. I chose my suppliers based on discussions I had with each of them, discussions I had with some of the amateurs I had met and I took my time. I received my license in December, I started spending money in March - the time in between I spent doing research. Finally, something that took me by surprise, when I bought my radio and antenna, I wasn't done spending money. I had to organise a power supply, wiring, fuses, connectors, coax cable, crimping tools, mounts, antenna hardware, multi-meter and things like a clipboard, a log-book and other paraphernalia. What I'm saying is, 40% of my spend was on things other than the radio and the antenna. So leave some money in the kitty! I'm Onno, vk6flab
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Real License
What use is an F-call? I've now had my foundation license just over 200 days. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked: "When are you upgrading your license?" I'd be able to retire, well, at least eat out. I'm unsure about the sentiment. I understand when it's asked from a place of encouragement and improvement, but often times it appears cloaked in the notion that an f-call is merely a stepping stone to a "real license". Allow me make some observations. If I had an advanced license and I decided to engage in QRP, low power broadcasting, then I'd get accolades for my ability to get to another station on the smell of an oily rag. If I built a magnificent antenna from scratch, I'd get enquiries about the design and suggestions on improvements. If I came up with a particularly nice design for a power supply, or a filter for a generator, or any number of contributions, I'd be welcomed into the ranks of a "real amateur", whatever that might mean. You might have noticed that I could have skipped the notion of needing an advanced license, because in fact, all of this can be done with a foundation license. You may think that I am having a go at those who snigger about the f-wit license. That's not for me to say. Instead I'm trusting that if you hold an f-call, that you gain confidence in your skills and privileges and that over time you too will become a (quote) "real amateur". When I learnt to fly, I visualised a bubble around the aircraft. Inside the bubble is safe, outside is certain disaster. As you manipulate the controls you might move around inside the bubble, or make it larger or smaller. Initially the bubble seemed infinite in size, but as experience was gained the bubble shrunk. It may well be that my experience in Amateur Radio can be described as a bubble, though probably not in terms of safe-and-disaster. When my skills in Amateur Radio improve and increase, I might determine that the bubble that restricts the foundation license stops me from exploring into fields that I'd like to investigate. Until that time, I'm perfectly happy with my f-call. I'm proud to have it, honoured to be a member of the Amateur Radio community and pleased to be able to explore this landscape. I'm Onno vk6flab
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This is a community
What use is an F-call? An experience on a local mailing list this week made me consciously consider for the first time that I am a member of a community in Amateur Radio. Now this might sound completely obvious to you, but consider this, Amateur Radio as we know it today has been around for over 100 years. I've just downloaded the first Annual Official Wireless Blue Book, updated to May of 1909. It's a call book. You'd recognise it instantly. In it's 19 pages it lists call-signs, locations and transmission power, even allocated wavelengths in the United States and Canada. It also contains a hand-written list of updates and annotations as well as sponsorship announcements for Modern Electrics and the Electro Importing Company with a list of Wireless goods that will "make you sit up and take notice." I've been playing and working with computers for several decades. My first computer was a Commodore VIC 20, in 1982 I was the first person in my class to own their own computer. That's nearly three decades ago and that's only a third of the way towards this call-book. Why am I making such a big deal about how long Amateur Radio has been around? There is one simple reason, it still exists. It hasn't imploded, it hasn't faded, innovation is still being made, development is ongoing and people are still joining today. The Amateur Community is one that appears to foster innovation and change, even though some might think of this as a stodgy boar, the truth is nothing like it. When you buy a different car, all of a sudden there are more cars like yours on the road, everywhere you turn, there's another one just like yours. For me, Amateur Radio is just like that, everywhere I turn, there is Amateur Radio. Last week on The Morning Interview with Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM, there was an interview with Dick Smith who was describing flying a helicopter solo around the world and finding a refuelling ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, before GPS navigation, using an Amateur Radio Beacon that he and his Ham radio mate built from parts from Dick's shop. A community exists because of its participants. That is, the people in the community engage with each other to pursue their community. While there is merit in sitting behind your radio listening to conversations that are being held around you, there is much to be gained from pushing on the talk button too. Last week I met an Amateur on air in Parabadoo, his voice was being overwhelmed by what I suspect were Gallah's. Without Amateur Radio and me keying the mike, I would never have made contact with him and some of his friends. For me it recalled an earlier time when I spent several years travelling around Australia. When I get on the road again, I will never feel that I'm without the community that has existed for many years without me and no-doubt will continue long after I'm no longer here. While I cannot make you talk on air, and there is no reason that you must, I would like to encourage you to try. It's all part of our community. I'm Onno, vk6flab
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Welcome to the hobby.
What use is an F-call? This week I'd like to share with you an experience I had on air a couple of days ago. I was tuned to 7.093 and I called CQ DX at about 4pm in the afternoon. I'd been listening on all bands for most of the afternoon and finally was beginning to hear some movement on 40 meters. There had been contests happening on all manner of frequencies, near and far, but for some reason or another, I wasn't getting through. There were a couple of hams having a chin wag a little further up the dial, but they seemed too engrossed to have a chat with someone else, so I dialled up the VK calling frequency and called for CQ DX. The call I got back was: "What are you doing calling CQ DX on this frequency at this time of the day?" - at first I was confused, it sounded like I'd trod on someone's toes, so I asked, "Sorry, is this frequency in use?" - I got an unclear answer and then: "What were you expecting in the way of DX?" to which I replied: "Something outside of Perth would be a great start." I didn't really get a response, or I didn't understand the response, either way, I felt like I'd done something wrong, but was unable to determine what it was that I might have done to receive the ire of the other station. Now don't get me wrong, the station wasn't abusive, didn't swear or tell me off exactly, but I didn't really feel welcome and soon after packed up and went home. At the time, there were four other amateurs with me and I asked them what had happened that might have caused this kind of response. They explained that it might have been a little early to get good propagation on 40 meters, but that I shouldn't worry too much, because there were always a few people on air with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Further discussion revealed that at least one amateur who was with me on that day had been the recipient of a similar treatment early in their amateur involvement and that the effect had not been forgotten. Since that experience, I've heard a few other mutterings about f-calls and their short-comings. You'll notice that I've not mentioned any call signs during this story, it's because I'm not trying to pick on a particular amateur who, in my opinion, could do with a hug, but because my experience with the rest of Amateur Radio has been so very different. It seems that every where I've been, I get welcomed almost as a long lost friend, even though the ink on my license is barely dry. So, in closing, all I really want to say, is thank you for welcoming me into this hobby. Thank you for encouraging me and if you as an f-call are ever on the end of this kind of experience, I encourage you to remember that there are some 3 million or so amateurs around, "mostly harmless" as Douglas Adams might have put it. I'm Onno, vk6flab
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7130dx net and phonetics
What use is an F-call? Over the past few weeks I've been encouraging you to listen to the news, to get on-air and participate. It's easy enough for me to say, but I can understand that it might not be so simple for you to actually achieve. Imagine for a moment that you have at least got the pre-requisites, that is, you have a license, you have a radio, antenna, power-supply, it's all plugged in and when you move the dial, you can hear stations. I realise that this assumes a whole lot of things which might not yet be true, but bear with me, I'm trying to make a point. Imagine if you will, that you have your microphone in your hand - or on your desk, and your finger is hovering over the magic Push To Talk button. Now what? What do you say? Whom do you say it to? How will you know it worked? The simplest way to start is to jump in and get your feet wet, but I know that might be a little daunting for you, so instead, why not tune to a station and see what's happening? Last week I was introduced to the 7130 dx net by another amateur. At the time we were sitting on the ocean with our respective radios tuning to see what was around and he suggested tuning to 7.130 MHz. There was a whole group of people talking and at first it was quite confusing. After a little while some structure started appearing and I could begin to understand what was happening - in short, people from around the globe all tuned to the same frequency at the same time with the single purpose of talking to each other. You might want to have a look at their website which explains in great detail what it is and how it works. The web-address is www.7130dx.net and the net runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 0930UTC on 7.130 MHz. Why am I telling you about this? What's the point? It's simple, you need to understand the lingo to be able to speak the lingo. Just like speaking Italian in a room full of Japanese is not a good way to communicate, speaking without knowing the words on an Amateur Radio band is a challenge. Finally a tip, learn your phonetic alphabet! Use it to read out number plates in the car, read out street signs, recite the alphabet, use it, that is, Uniform Sierra Echo India Tango! Go forth and charlie oscar mike mike uniform november india charlie alpha tango echo, I say again, charlie oscar mike mike uniform november india charlie alpha tango echo. I'm Onno, vk6flab
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Buying your Kit
What use is an F-call? Firstly I should thank all those f-calls that contributed to the call-back last week. If you know of any f-calls that are not listening to the broadcast, tell them about it and who knows what might happen. When I started this hobby I did what I am beginning to suspect many newcomers to the field did. I asked around what things to do and who to talk to, then I made my first purchases. I've now spent some of my hard-earned money and to-date I'm very happy about what I bought, but along the way I learnt a few things that I think might be helpful. My biggest frustration in going out to get my kit was this phenomenon that seemed to plague me where-ever I went. "Why can I not just buy a standard kit with radio, power-supply and antenna?" All in one box, all from one supplier, all shipped to my door, point and click-style. My limited experience to date tells me that you can in fact do that - it's called a hand-held all-in-one transceiver and it is all that. Of course there are trade-offs such as transmit power, battery life, band-availability, user-interface, etc. I'm extremely familiar with the I.T. industry. The answer to any given question asked by any given person is always "it depends". I've learnt that Amateur Radio is exactly the same - and as an aside, I suspect it's true for many more fields. Back to buying a kit. Why not all-in-one? Why is this so hard? Well, you now know the answer, "it depends". It depends on many things, where you're going to install it, how you're going to use it, how much space you have, how much money, whom you can buy the gear from, etc. etc. So, my observation today is that for every HAM there's a solution - and for every solution there's an alternative - or six. You can buy your gear brand new, like I did, or you can buy it second or third hand. Perhaps you were given a set. In the end, it doesn't matter what you have when you get started, just that you actually do that, get started. I'm sure that as I learn more I'll know more and be able to reflect on the choices I've made to date, but in the end, it's up to you to get started. Go forth and transmit! - I'm Onno, VK6FLAB
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Be Brave
What use is an F-call? Last week I discussed the idea that having an f-call is like having a key to the front-door, or like the first step towards gaining a pilot license. You may think while you're listening to me talk that I've been in Amateur Radio for years and that I have all the HAM experience in the world. The opposite is true. While I have a long history in broadcast radio, that is, I'm not afraid to open my mouth in front of a microphone, and I'm not afraid to participate in public fora, I am as fresh as a newborn in the Amateur Radio field. You might think that your skills, the ones you have as prior experience before you got your license are not sufficient to be able to actually contribute to this hobby. You may have the belief that there are others more qualified than you who may scoff at your technique or knowledge. As I said last week, learning to fly, going solo, is something that every pilot from Cessna to Space Shuttle needs to do. Every Amateur you hear on the radio has been through those steps, some last week, some 50 years ago. There is no way to learn to swim, other than getting wet. If you're listening to this online, perhaps next week, you'll turn on your radio, or find a friend who has a radio to listen to this broadcast over the air. If you're listening to this over the air, then I encourage you to stick around at the end of the broadcast and call in. You might be worried about "doing it right". Perhaps some background will help. A call-back is structured so that everyone can hear everyone else. The person running the call-back, generally asks for people to call in using the last letter of their call-sign. So in my case, when the call-back calls for people who's call ends in ALPHA, BRAVO or CHARLIE, it's my chance to call back. Call back can be as simple as keying the microphone and saying your call-sign. Wait until you have some silence, key the mike and talk. We don't bite! Also, if you end up keying the microphone at the same time as someone else, the person running the call-back might ask you to try again, or they might not say your call-sign, so they may not have heard you at all. So call again! As a final encouragement, I've been broadcasting on radio for nearly 20 years. I've conducted some 1500 radio interviews and spoken to many people. Every time I key the microphone, my stomach flutters and clenches. The trick is to carry on regardless! I'm Onno Benschop, Victor Kilo Six Foxtrot Lima Alpha Bravo. Be brave, you can do it!
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This is step 1 of the hobby
What use is an F-call? When I was learning to fly an aeroplane my instructor at the time told me that every pilot has to do something called "Going Solo", that's flying on your own for the first time. It's not the end of instruction, it's one in the path towards becoming a pilot. He also told me that this was true for pilots flying Cessna's, Boeing 747's and Space-Shuttles. The same is true for your f-call. The time you've spent learning how Amateur Radio works, where things are written down, basic etiquette and procedure are all designed to prepare you for the wider world of Amateur Radio. Your f-call license is the first step in the process of mastering this technical hobby. Think of your f-call as the keys to the front door. It's what allows you to participate at what ever level you'd like to. You can of course go on to get extra licenses, just like in flying, going solo is only step one on the way to the moon. The joy is in the process of discovering your niche in the path along the way. So, your f-call is but one aspect of your hobby. On the air last week, an amateur had purchased a radio which turned out to be not such a great bargain. Through trial and error you learn what this hobby is all about. Talking to like-minded people will help you find out what the tips and traps are. I realise that there are more than a few listeners who either haven't got their kit ready, or if they do, are afraid to talk and use it. Over the coming months a few of us are going to get together to come up with a way that you can participate on the air without being afraid to make mistakes. And I should also say that you should find ways of participating in events as they happen. The people turning up at those events come from all different walks of life, but they all have in common that they have an interest in this hobby of amateur radio. I'm Onno Benschop - vk6flab
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Your F-call can do more than you think.
What use is an F-call? Last week I was talking to an amateur in Esperance from Fremantle on 21MHz and he was bemoaning the notion that he needed to upgrade his license because with 10 Watts you couldn't do much. Little did he know that the week before I was sitting in exactly the same spot with my puny little f-license as he thought of it and I was talking to Portland, Oregon. I was listening on 7.146 and a CQ came out from a call-sign I didn't recognise and I answered and sure enough an answer came back and then I found he was talking long-path to South Africa and here I was with my puny little 10 Watts talking to him. He was pumping out 400 Watts and he was amazed that I was doing this off batteries with no amplifiers no anything and hand-made antennas. You know he couldn't quite believe that you didn't have to spend thousands of dollars to make that kind of distance. So your f-call can do more than you think. You just have to figure out how to make it do that. That's the challenge, not more power. Use it better! I'm vk6flab
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Welcome
What use is an F-call? This podcast started life in 2011 when I was asked to record a story I shared during the production of the weekly amateur radio news in Western Australia. I'd been a licensed radio amateur, or ham, for a few months and found myself surrounded by people who perceived the basic Australian foundation amateur licence wasn't worth anything. What use is an F-call? is my response to that sentiment. It's produced weekly. In 2015 after long deliberation it was renamed to Foundations of Amateur Radio so people outside Australia might also enjoy the experience. Although most of the items stand alone, I'd recommend that you start at the beginning in 2011 and listen in sequence. Enjoy. I'm Onno VK6FLAB
Listen: podcast - audio/mp3


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