Wow! It’s been well over another year and I didn’t post any updates or projects. That’s because I haven’t done much when it comes to amateur radio. After looking back, all I’ve done was participate in the New England QSO Party (NEQP), Field Day (FD) and did a handful of contacts.
2021 was not a good year for me personally. My goal for 2022 is to do more things related to amateur radio.
Antennas Are Dead
A big reason why I haven’t made many contacts from home in 2021 is that my antennas are not working.
With my beam, I have a feeling water got into the connection where the coax from my beam (pigtail) meets the coax going to my station. Or at least I hope. You’ll see in the above graph there are dips near the band.
The tuner on my flex can’t seem to find a match for the antenna. If it does, soon as I increase the power, the SWR goes bonkers.
My other two antennas (HF9V, Inverted L for 80M) are also not working. I have a feeling water got into the line and ruined the cable.
If anyone ever decides to run their coax underground, go larger with the piping and tubing. I’m considering digging it up and replacing it with 1-1/2″ or larger tubing so I can have 3 runs of coax, control cable and even a couple CAT6 ethernet runs. Also considering just pulling the coax and run direct burial coax.
Other things going on
I’ve had a lot of major projects at home and at work. So my antenna went mostly to that. However, I always have amateur radio in mind. Only thing I really did in 2021 was the New England QSO party and Field Day. In 2022 I did basically the same thing but I also did some contests from K1TTT (contest station). I have worked on a couple projects in 2022 related to amateur radio. I’ve built a (tr)uSDX transceiver kit and I also built a networked 2X6 antenna switch. I will be releasing separate blog posts about each project.
Future Amateur Radio Goals
Since one of my major house projects is done, I can sort of focus back on my hobbies. There are many things I need to do and I even may get over my stubbornness and ask people for help.
Here is a breakdown of things I need to
Repair or replace the CL-33 Yagi – Hardest thing to do since I don’t like going on my roof
Run new coax to edge of property – Still hard but I won’t have to worry about falling off a roof. Plan is to run 2 lengths of cox, 2 lengths of CAT6 cable and run for 12V DC. That way I can have multiple antennas up
Better Station Grounding – That’s going to be interesting since my shack is on the 2nd floor. Going to cover my desk with some aluminum and better cable management.
SOTA! – Now that I have a portable radio, I want to get back into doing summits on the air. Thankfully there a group of people that like to do SOTA and hopefully get them to tag along.
More contesting -When my station is hopefully better (before OCT), I hope to participate in CQWW and ARRL DX.
Yes, I am still here. Just not as active compared to 2011. Maybe it’s the solar cycle, maybe it’s complacency, maybe it’s that I have other things going on or maybe it’s a combination of the three. I wish I could blame it on the COVID-19 situation but my involvement declined well before it happened.
Many things happened since my last post so I figured I would give anyone who actually follows this blog a bit of an update. There will be separate blog posts of things that I feel I need to go into details over. Here are the updates.
That’s right, I sold off my K3 and purchased a new radio… 2 years ago! Even though I loved my K3, it had to go. There was some things I didn’t like about the K3 and elecraft in general. I purchased my K3 at a weird time.
Even though I was purchasing a brand new radio, I felt like I purchased something that was already outdated. Soon after my purchase they released a synth upgrade and then the K3S. Elecraft wouldn’t cut me a deal on the synth so I wasn’t really happy.
Don’t get me wrong. The elecraft K3 performs really well and is miles better than my YAESU FT-950. Biggest issue with me that the audio was just horrible. As a primary phone (voice) operator. I struggled when it came to contests.
The ergonomics is sub-par when you compare it to the latest and greatest from the “Big Three”. However, that doesn’t really matter during a contest when it’s all about RX.
Hello Flex 6400!
Since I always use the pan-adapter with the K3, I figure I would be more at home with a Software Defined Radio (SDR). At this point, Flex Radio systems is a leader in amateur radio SDR transceivers. It’s a no-brainer!
I’m torn between the 6400 and the 6600. The 6600 offers so much more but my wallet couldn’t support the purchase. The K3 basically tanked in value with the K3S and the K4 around the corner. With my lack of involvment in the hobby, I thought the 6400 was the right choice.
I ended up going with the plain 6400. Not the 6400M. I felt that if I wanted knobs and buttons, I could get the Maestro. It’s basically a remote head unit that you would get on some VHF/UHF mobile radios
I will be going into a 2 year detailed review in another blog post. Stay tuned!
That’s right folks, I got a new tower! Well… it’s not really a NEW tower and it’s not really a stationary tower. It’s technically portable in a military sense. I got my hands on AB-577. A Vietnam area “push up” tower that supports microwave horns or camouflage netting.
It’s sought after by hams as a quick way to deploy an antenna tower that can support various configurations of antennas. I could never find wind and load ratings but I’ve seen some massive antennas perched on these towers.
I’ve fell in love with this tower in the mid 1990’s when I was a teen. Back then they were somewhat plentiful. I always wanted one. However, over time they became very scarce and couldn’t really use it on my property. Whenever one became available, I passed to someone else and always regretted it.
I knew a few people that had them and I always bugged them about letting go of theirs. Either I wore one of them down or they realize they are no longer going to use it and offered it to me. Even though it was a bit out of my price range, I didn’t want to let it go.
Field Day 2020 is on!
With the newly acquired AB-577, I was desperate to use it. I cleaned it as much as possible and applied a bit of grease where needed. It was ready to go. However, my local club already uses multiple AB-577s and the COVID pandemic was in full tilt so I didn’t think I was going to make use of my new tower.
A small group of hams that I regularly hang out with still wanted to have a non-public field day and I immediately offered up my AB-577 with a tri-band beam. They were understandably hesitant because in the prior year they used wires and the AB-577 can be a pain. However, there were issues with the wire antennas and I’m insistent. It was a go!
The AB-577 checked out. There was an issue with 2 of the 8 tubes. But if you were to install them first, it wasn’t an issue. My big issue was the beam. We were using a Mosely CL-33 . I got my hands on 2 of them for field day. I figured I’ll get at least one functioning beam out of it. Like with anything else, I waited to the last second to get it ready.
Field Day 2020 Setup
With everything packed into my small utility trailer, it was go time. On Thursday (the day before FD setup) I dropped off everything at the site so I didn’t have to scramble around in the morning. Since it was going to be a hot and rainy weekend, I just wanted it out of my way.
The next day we started working. The AB-577 went up okay. The biggest pain in the butt was the guy anchors. Since I didn’t have the pound in stakes that normally come with a AB-577, we used screw-in anchors. They are a pain to install. Tower was plumb and ready for an antenna.
The goal was to install the tower with a tri-band (10/15/20) beam and two inverted V dipoles for 40m and 80m. With a triplexor and single band pass filters, we could technically have 5 stations on at the same time. However we planned for 2A QRP using a couple elecraft KX3 radios.
The main antenna didn’t do so well. It wasn’t looking good on the analyzer and I am not sure why. I swore I double checked everything. Other than installing the driven element on top of the boom, I am not sure what else would cause issues. I also brought two 80m antennas and caught that after installation.
FD 2020 On The Air!
We didn’t feel like lowering the triband beam and made use of the ATUs inside the KX3 rigs. The goal was to beat last years score and with the tri-bander acting funny, I didn’t think it was going to be possible. We had one station doing CW and the other station doing FT8 and voice. However, I’m not sure if there was ANY SSB contacts.
I wanted to do the night shift, I went home shortly after FD hoping that I would catch a nap and return at 10pm to make contacts on 40/80 throughout the night. However, home life took over and didn’t make it. I felt bad for the one op that operated throughout most of the night.
The on and off rain that we had throughout the weekend was both a blessing and a pain. It broke the 90f+ heat but getting soaked wasn’t fun either.
We ended up making 433 contacts and got 5,190 points as NE1C in WMA for the Hampden County Amateur Radio Association (HCRA) which isn’t that bad. We beat last years score and out of al the submissions from the locals, we had the most contacts and points. I consider that a success even though we could have done better with a functioning antenna on 20, 15 and 10.
Due to COVID-19 situation, there are many restrictions put into place and I have been unable to host any examinations for new amateur radio licenses and upgrades. It’s a bit of a bummer because I do enjoy hosting examination. I knew the FCC allows remote exams and was hoping that Laurel VEC would allow it but it appears they had no interest. I figured I would help out in any way I could. Thankfully there were a few VECs that stepped up.
I found the Greater LA Amateur Radio Group (GLAARG). They were hosting remote exams and they seem to be doing very well. I was able to get accredited with GLAARG and help out as much as possible at first. The two/three people running the show (Norm, Naomi) were the nicest people and was proud to do exams with them. I was hoping that I could host my own remote exams so that locals could get license.
I ended up stepping back (but not away!) from it as my situation at home and work took over. As much as I love amateur radio and helping others get their license, home and work come first.
No More Free Licenses
When I found out that the FCC was implementing fees for amateur radio applications, it made me angry.
With the combination of free study resources such as “KB6NU No Non-sense Study Guide” and Hamstudy.org along with my free exams, there was absolutely no cost barrier to obtain an amateur radio license.
However due to the RAY-BAUM act, the FCC has to implement FEEs. I am bit annoyed that the ARRL didn’t see this coming and more annoyed that they didn’t do anything until AFTER the FCC suggested the rule change. At first it was $50 application fee. After many letters from hams, the FCC lowered it to $35 but they are still implementing fees.
Even though exams through laurel is still “FREE”, the candidate will have to go to the FCC’s website and pay them directly in order to obtain an amateur radio license. This also goes with any renewals and vanity applications. Admin updates such as address/name changes are free as the FCC wants a current address.
The FCC is also making it so you have to provide a valid e-mail address and you can no longer use a Social Security Number (SSN) on the NCVEC form 605. The candidate will need to create an account on the ULS and obtain an FRN prior to any exam. This can be an issue from anyone underage or for those who don’t really use the internet and/or a computer.
I Did Some Contests!
Not counting Field Day, I did some contests from the QTH. During the summer I installed a remote antenna relay and a 160m inverted L antenna but I didn’t get the vertical part as high as I wanted it. I used it to play in one of the 160m contests. I didn’t get much DX but I had lots of fun.
Also played around in the ARRL 10M contest. I was more focused on recording the contest than trying to make contacts. I use N1MM for contest logging and QSOrder is a popular plugin. Thankfully it supports multiple inputs. However, I am having trouble recording my end of CW contacts as flex doesn’t really import the CW Sidetone as there is a delay.
Other Personal Projects.
After field day that was it. I haven’t really done much involving amateur radio. I gave some presentations to local clubs over zoom about my experiences with the flex radio and obtained the material I needed to make some current chokes, rid some local RFI.
I plan on make a new set of bandpass filters for the field day crew to replace the ones that I am not sure about.
Since the lockdown and restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 situation. I haven’t been able to host any free radio examinations and haven’t really turned on the radio at my QTH. There is just no interest on my end.
The Future Of NT1K
I haven’t and I don’t think I’ll ever give up with the hobby. It’s been a part of me ever since I got my hands on a Radio Shack catalog. I’m not giving it up that easily. My 2021 goals is to hopefully get my 160M antenna higher and also get antennas up for 80m and 40m. I’m hoping to get 5 band DXCC using LoTW.
As for this blog, I still attract visitors and I still get e-mails from people showing off things they built from prints that I made or projects that I went into detail about. It puts a smile on my face and hope to update a lot of articles.
I let the domain associated with my old callsign lapse thinking it would just go away. Well, I guess it was popular enough to where someone purchased it and then tried offering it back to me at an exaggerated price. Since I had no interest, it now forwards to a very graphic adult site. So if you ended up there by mistake, my apologies.
Today I received word that the FCC has denied my petition to give regional preference to hams applying for a vanity call sign when in competition with others who reside elsewhere. I wasn’t surprised.
For years I’ve been mentioning how I think it’s unfair that call signs are being issued to people outside their districts when you have people within that are applying for the same call on the same day. Personally I feel that those within should have preference when multiple people are applying for a call. I still feel that way.
Instead of complaining, I decided to actually do something about it and submitted my petition to the FCC.
Bit of Confusion
Seems like there was some confusion with my petition and that I was trying to geo restrict callsigns for all. That was FAR from my intentions. The FCC did away with that a long time ago and I support their decision. I still believe that if you apply for vanity callsign and it’s available, you should be able to get it. I also believe that you should retain your call if you move. However, If two or more people applied for the same callsign on the same day, I strongly feel that the person whom lives within the district should have preference over the others.
I have feeling that people thought that my petition was the same as RM-11834. Mr Borghi asked the FCC to restrict ALL vanity applications to their region. My petition was asking for preference when it comes to competing applications which wouldn’t effect most vanity applications. There is quite a difference between the two.
I have never really submitted any type of letter to the government before as it really shows if you’ve read the actual petition. I try to always use any situation as a learning experience to better myself.
I wanted to get right to point and keep it as short as possible. That may or may not have backfired. Should have gathered more data and submitted it with my petition but I’m not sure if that would have made things better.
I’ve learned what exactly the process is and how long things take within the FCC.
I’d like to say thanks to those who took the time to write to the FCC in support of the petition and also to those who weren’t as supportive. Your voices were heard and considered during the review process. It was an interesting experience and hopefully this can be re-visited down the road.
At some point in your amateur radio adventures you’ll eventually want to make your own antenna or you’re not certain about the antenna you have and want to make sure it’s working properly. You’ll have to get some type of analyzer. For many years the MFJ-259 series was a staple in the amateur radio community and you’ll still find them in many shacks. But at around $299, it’s a hefty investment for a lot of hams. You’re not going to spend hundreds of dollars to measure your $20 dipole. Just like with boats, you would rather find a friend that has one and use theirs instead. You may be lucky and your local amateur radio club might have a loaner. For a long time, this was the only way… Until now
With advances in technology, mass production and shipping, hobbyists can get their hands on some really advanced stuff without it doing much wallet damage. The prices for components are now at the level where it’s worth tinkering. For the amateur radio operator, it’s a blessing. Some really nice projects are being developed to where almost anyone can participate. Plus these projects are being shared with the general public which can be a blessing or nightmare depending on the circumstances.
Before when the MFJ-259 reigned, there wasn’t much out there unless you started getting to lab grade equipment which is not priced for the hobbyist. Now the market is flooded with all types of analyzers. Some are cheaper and some are more expensive when compared to the 259. They may or may not be better. When I was first in the market, I gravitated towards the mini radio solution’s miniVNA pro. I got a used one for a really great price. It had bluetooth connection and there was an app developed for android based devices where adjustments can be made at the antenna while the analyzer was hooked up at the other end. If you follow my blog, you’ll see many times where I’ve used it.
I liked that I could analyze antennas, measure coax (see if there is any breaks/shorts), sweep filters and I even measured LC circuits with some degree of accuracy. However, I’ve made a big mistake … I sold it and regretted it almost immediately.
After about the 12th time I kicked myself in the butt, I started looking at getting an analyzer or hobbyist grade VNA. The RigExpert brand of analyzers looked tempting and there were some kit style VNA’s but their prices didn’t justify the purchase .
One of the things I’ve noticed in my very limited electronics skill set is the Silicon Labs Si5351 programmable clock generator chip. Considering they cost around $1USD, I was excited to see what hams would do with the style of chip and there are many kits and products. I could imaging many projects that would need a VFO would use this chip. I’ve purchased breakout kits thinking I would be able to make something from it but my lack of knowledge and time stopped me. However, there are some really cool projects that use the type and style of chip.
New VNA on the block
One of those people was twitter user @eddy555 He was developing a small handheld VNA with a touch screen using the Si5351 Chip. He made it available so that anyone could make it but I just didn’t have time to source the parts and build it. It made having an “affordable” VNA within reach.
Due to the project being completely out in the open, Chinese electronic manufacturers noticed the demand for these kits and started mass producing these VNAs. The market recently flooded with them to where the prices are getting lower and lower. You can now obtain one, assembled with an internal battery for about $50 USD. You can’t really beat that and I feel that they will even get lower in price. Word of mouth is spreading quick in the amateur radio community. So of course I had to get my hands on one.
I purchased mine from the Chinese exporter Aliexpress. People have mixed results when dealing with Aliexpress but from what I’ve read the units coming from a particular vendor were very decent and compared to the likes of lab grade equipment.
After 3 weeks from purchase, I received a box containing the VNA, SMA calibration kit, two SMA patch cables, SMA barrel connector, USB-C Charge/Data cable and a plastic case. The VNA itself is about the size of a credit card and about 1/2″ (11mm) thick. It uses standoff and PCB boards as a case. I removed the screen protector (involves unscrewing the top board) and eventually 3D printed a case I found on thingiverse
You get a lot for your money. Of course I had to immediately calibrate and test all my HT antennas. Since I’ve had experience with the miniVNA PRO, I felt right at home. It didn’t take me long to figure out where everything is and how to see the measurements I want.
Next was the 3 element tri-band Yagi antenna that is on my roof. I am doing just basic SWR plots. I guess my antenna is still good! Well… At least SWR wise. The screen is indeed tiny so I have a feeling that the older hams might take issue with that. The software that is publicly available has issues as well. But other than that, I really like this unit. For the price you can’t really complain
I feel the NanoVNA went viral and I feel that you’ll see many ham shacks with their own in the near future. It’s spreading which I feel is a great thing. The prices will lower and you’ll have many more contributors working on the project. There are people working on some new software that will make reading the VNA results much easier. I’m excited about the future of this device
Update: 9/25/19 – Rune Broberg (5Q5R) has been working on his own software for the NanoVNA that can run on windows and other systems. Check out his github page dedicated to it (also download it from there)
If you are looking for an analyzer, for the price of the NanoVNA, I’d strongly suggest you get one. Small enough to fit in a tool bag and it has many uses that can benefit the amateur radio operator.
For those who are actually following my blog, thank you! It’s been awhile since my last post and I just want to say that I’m not dead and I’m still active in the amateur radio hobby. Just not on the air as much as I would like. Since it’s been awhile, there will be a lot of reading.
Noise! The ever increasing noise at my QTH has led me away from the airwaves. Or has it? I haven’t been interested in making contacts lately. Not sure if it’s because of the noise, solar cycle, equipment, antennas, lack of enthusiasm or a combination of them all.
I’ve also been doing other things that had taken me away from the blog. For a couple of years I was at the helm of my local radio club and dedicated a lot of time and energy to it. I was very excited when given the opportunity and was hoping to move the club into the future and make it more exciting. However it proved to be difficult and it was getting to a point to where I felt it wasn’t worth the time away from my family. It felt like the board wasn’t really sharing the same interests and that was made apparent when I left when they reverted most of my decisions. Can’t fight the status quo when it comes to ham clubs. However, there were many good times, met lots of nice people and I’ve learned a lot so it wasn’t time wasted.
What Am I Doing Now?
I’ve been dedicating a lot of time and effort into helping those interested in amateur radio to get licensed and help those who want to upgrade by providing free amateur radio examinations. Towards the end of 2017, I created a Laurel VEC team in Western Massachusetts known as the “Pioneer Valley VE Team“. We now have over 25 VEs and administered over 8 exams throughout the pioneer valley. Our goal is to connect new hams with local and national clubs. We are currently the only VE team in Western Mass that is giving out free exams.
I’ve also worked on various amateur radio related kits and projects. Built one of the MicroBitX QRP transceivers. I’ve also destroyed it trying to install modifications. Might buy another one with an updated board.
To combat the noise issues I have, I got my hands on Noise Canceler kit from VK5TM from Australia. It has a decent price (around $60USD) and it didn’t take that long to assemble. The hardest parts I’d say were winding the torroid and soldering these very tiny voltage regulators.
It works very well. I tested it by tuning into WWV at 5MHZ. Prior to the build, I could never clearly hear the signal. I would just hear little bits and pieces. After putting the canceler in-line, the was a major different
I have since been able to enjoy SSB and actually make contacts. Bit of pain having to adjust it but if there is a station I need to talk to, I can easily turn it on and adjust.
I Have Been On The Air
Just not really much from my QTH. I have been using Dave Robbin’s (K1TTT) contest station here and there. He is an excellent host.
He has an impressive station. The downside is after you leave his station, go home and turn on your station, you get bummed out about all the missing signals. I really enjoy contesting and I don’t think I’ll ever get away from it.
I’ve also done some FT8 here and there. It’s a really excellent mode and I think it’s a godsend for those operators who can’t have a large station. I see a lot of operators dismiss the mode claiming it’s a cheap way to get DXCC but I see it as a mode that re-generates interest in Amateur Radio.
As of writing this, The FCC is still seeking public comments about my rule making petition to give residential preference to hams applying for a vanity callsign when the applications are in competition (multiple people applying for the same call). There is still a few days left before they close comments.
There are some changes coming to the NT1K shack and I hope that I will be back on the air participating in chasing DX and contesting . I’ve abandoned my dreams of SO2R (For Now). I’m concentrating my efforts on being able to enjoy operating from home again. I’ve sold off basically all my gear which includes my amp (that I miss very much), roller tuner, KX3 and I am currently selling my K3. I am going to have a fresh start. I’m going after a cleaner station with more antenna options.
Since spring is here and summer is around the corner, I doubt I’ll be able to dedicate time to my station. I set my goal to have my station fully operational again on all bands for the CQWW SSB contest.
I guess you’ll have to stay tuned. Thanks for reading!
I’ve petition the FCC for a rule making change that would give residential preference to amateur radio operators applying for vanity callsigns that reside within the district of the callsign only when applications are in competition with others.
I don’t think it’s fair to see callsign applications that are in competition to be awarded to operators who reside outside the district of the callsign when there are operators who are also applying for that live within. They should have preference. If there are no competing applications for a callsign then it’s up for grabs by anyone. I am on requesting residential preference on ONLY competing applications, nothing else.
This mostly applies to callsigns in the 1X2 or 2X1 format (N1AB or NA1B for example) as they are very difficult to obtain. There is usually at least a half dozen applications for a short call the day it becomes available. When the FCC dropped the fees associated with vanity applications, the difficulty increased.
When I’ve obtained my extra class license, I wanted to get a shorter callsign to replace N1BMX. I often do contesting and felt it would be nice to have something shorter in CW. This meant I would be going after a callsign either in the 1X2 or 2X1 format (N1AB or NA1B for example). I’ve noticed there are not many of these short callsigns available anymore. When one becomes available, many people apply for it on the same day. If you are not aware, when multiple people apply for the call, it goes into a lottery situation where the FCC randomly picks one of the applications and grants the call. Even if you applied at 12:01am, it doesn’t matter.
I applied for K1HF when it came available and lost out to someone in Maine. I didn’t win the lottery which is fine. Then N1DE came up and I lost out to someone in California. I wasn’t fine with that . Then I noticed many of my peers loosing out on competing applications to operators who reside outside the district of the call they were applying for. I didn’t think this was fair.
I understand that the FCC has dropped residency requirements and I still support that. Your callsign is part of your identity. It’s who you are when you are on the air and sometimes you are only known by your call. I still believe that you move, you should be able to retain your callsign. Even though the FCC has dropped that requirement, they still issue call signs by district. When operators travel, they attach an identifier telling which district they are in (NT1K/6 for example).
If I hear US station with a 6 in their callsign, I am going to believe they are in California. Same with hearing a KH6 or a KL thinking they are in Hawaii or Alaska (BTW, those calls are restricted to those who reside in Hawaii, Alaska and other islands).
Instead of complaining, I decided to do something about it. Back in September of 2018 I submitted a rulemaking petition that for the most part, sat in their inbox. I didn’t think anything was going to come of it until I saw an ARRL article where it was mentioned. The FCC accepted it and assigned a rulemaking docket number 11835 (RM-11835).
I ask that if you support, please submit a comment to the FCC. Even if you don’t support it, submit a comment to the FCC anyways. You can add an express comment by visiting the following website
In the Proceedings box type RM-11835, fill out the rest of the form and add your comment.
There is also a similar petition (RM-11834) asking for residency preference on ALL vanity applications. The difference between mine is that I am only asking preference on competing applications. I was not aware of this petition and didn’t see it in the FCC’s ECFS system.
With the not so great weather we had around my QTH, I figured to turn on the radio and participate in the ARRL DX side band contest this weekend. It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve did any sort of SSB contesting from my own station. It’s a combination of the solar cycle, RFI from solar panels in my area and being spoiled by operation at contest station K1TTT.
This happened just a couple houses away. The trees on my street have seen better days. They are not mostly hollow and were constantly shedding limbs. Thankfully the town cut the tree that was directly in-front of my house. They left the stump but after this weekend, I’m grateful. However, I was worried about my roof mounted beam (CL-33) surviving the weekend.
Getting Back On The Air
I was surprised to turn on the radio and hear signals… Everywhere. It sort of felt like 2011 again. My ears piqued and I was scrambling to set up my logging software and headset. I recorded my macros and away I went.
Since I wasn’t really planning on putting in a serious effort (Which I have yet to do from my home), I turned on the cluster and did mostly S&P (Search and Pounce). I was sticking with 20 meters with the hopes of entering as single band until I looked at the rules. Since I was using the cluster/telnet, It puts me into the “Unlimited” category that doesn’t have single bands. I ended up entering as “Single Operator All Band, Unlimited, Low Power” (SOAB(U)-LP). I went with low power because I no longer have high power gear at the QTH.
My Goal Was 100 QSOs
One should always set a goal. I decided to be easy and make just 100 QSOs. I figured with the way 20 meters was sounding, I should be able to get that in a couple hours. Nope! I had to fight a bit because I was running low power. I started noticing a lot of spots on 15m so I went over a played.
It took a few hours but I met my goal. Turned off the radio and did stuff around the house. I though I was done but Sunday morning came along and knew there was more people out there.
Don’t be an appliance operator
I was starting to get frustrated during the contest. I recall being easily able to work Italy and Germany. I was struggling. The mix of QRM from everyone trying to squeeze into a tight band, local RFI and poor conditions wasn’t doing well with me. That was until a colleague made a side comment about features of my K3 that I wasn’t using.
I narrowed the filter to use my 1.8Khz filter, shifted the filter, turned the AGC from fast to slow, enabled the noise blanker and turned on the noise reduction at times. My biggest aid was the RF Gain knob. All of those combined made operating in my environment much easier. I paid good money for this equipment and I am certain you did as well. Take advantage of what you have. In my case, I forgot about it.
I ended up making 155 contacts. I was hoping to make 50k points but life took me away from the radio.
There are some “ATNO” (All Time New One) contacts in the log. Z60K (Kosovo) sticks out. I thought PZ5K (Suriname) would be another but I worked PZ5RA back in 2015. Hopefully I get some new band slots.
I had fun. It proved that I could do contesting from home. I have to work harder but it’s still possible.
It’s been over a year since my last post. Amateur radio activity at station NT1K has slowed down quite a bit. There has been RFI issues at my QTH and heading into a solar null doesn’t help. Sold/Selling off my high power equipment and gave up on trying to convert my station to SO2R.
I’ve recently moved NT1K.com to a new host. My old host increased their price by at least 40%. They were hesitant about changing my account and since I use very little space/bandwidth, it wasn’t worth the increase. I decided to get full use out of the VPS that I purchased for a different project. It was a huge learning experience but I’m saving hundreds a year by doing it myself. During the move I restructured the site to drop the /blog. I didn’t realize that it would cause issues with search engine results. I have since fixed that… Hopefully.
I am not out of the hobby. Portable operations is picking up, I am working on some projects, I have started a local VE team. There are some articles coming down the pipe so please stay tuned.
Back in 2010, I was getting back into amateur radio. I wanted to do more with hobby other than hanging out on the local repeaters. I wanted to communicate with the world. Until then I never made a true “DX” contact. I’ve upgraded my license and soon as I made my first DX contact, I was hooked. It was easier than I thought, I was working the world on a simple doublet antenna.
The DX contacts started rolling in. I was having fun until I got my first QSL card. “Oh no! What now?” I thought. Did I make contact with the person? Their callsign sounds familiar. From then on I knew I had to log my contacts. There must be some kind of software that will help me out. Of course I found many types of software but this one piece of software was glaring out from the rest. It was Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD).
At the time HRD was being developed by Simon Brown. He did a very excellent Job with the software and had it easily hooked up to my FT-857D and was logging contacts with it in no time. I then notice Digital Master 780 (DM780) and it opened my eyes up to the world of digital communications. I purchased a soundcard interface and was tearing up PSK, RTTY, FELD HELL and all sorts of other modes. I was now more on digital than compared to SSB with thanks to HRD.
I was looking forward to see what the new version 6 would have to offer. I’ve had some issues with the software randomly shutting down. Since I wasn’t paying for it, I didn’t mind. I was hoping the new crew would fix the issues and the software would improve.
Sometime later version 6 came out. I was excited until I went to the new website and saw the $100 price tag for a lifetime license of that revision. Thankfully they released a trial version and I gave it a go. I’ve noticed some changes but nothing that really stuck out that was wanting me to pay for it. The other thing that turned me off is that after the first year, if you wanted to continue with support or receive updates, it would cost an additional $50 annually. Just not sure if it’s worth it.
Let me just state that this has nothing to do with being a “cheap” ham. I don’t mind shelling out the money knowing that I am getting a quality product that lasts. This has more to do with having a free product that does almost the exact same thing compared to the paid version of the same product. At this point I decided it wasn’t worth the money and I’ve decided to switch to DXlabs suite. I would periodically check back to see if there were any major improvements that would make me want to purchase HRD. However there wasn’t. Awards tracking seem to improve but since my trial expired, I couldn’t confirm it.
For the record, I LOVED HRD. Their DM780 program is what got me into PSK and since I’ve switched to DXlabs, I haven’t been able to comfortably do digital modes using Winwarbler. It’s not the same. I couldn’t get myself used to it. I wanted to use HRD. I would constantly read the reviews over at eham and I would pay attention to their press releases over at QRZ.com to see if there was something that would attract my wallet. There were rumors of adding JT modes to DM780 so that really got me looking into it.
As I’ve looked into reviews and postings on forums, I’ve noticed that support from HRD is questionable. Sometimes they give excellent service, sometimes they give horrible service. I always take reviews from hams with a grain of salt. I understand that some people don’t bother to read the manual, some are lazy and some are flat out incompetent. There are some people who take the term “The Customer Is Always Right” out of context and demand way too much. With a piece of software that has to support so many different pieces of hardware, it will be impossible to please everyone.
Recently there was a review on eham.net from N2SUB about HRD, He gave it 1/5 and offered in great detail about his issues and he even gave them a tip on how to make it better. It wasn’t one of those cranky “this sucks” type of review because the reviewer couldn’t instantly get it to work and is too good to read the manual or search for similar issue. It was a legit review.
In the background a much bigger story was unfolding. N2SUB reached out to HRD support to figure out what was going on and how to fix it. According to the support ticket, HRD instructed him to download the latest version. Soon as the user installed the new version and started it, it quickly shut down. When he asked HRD support about it, they responded that his support was expired and they requested that he doesn’t renew support because of the review on eham. HRD then referenced section 8 of their EULA that states “We reserve the right to refuse service and disable a customer’s key at any time for any reason”. They also stated in order to have access to the software, he would need to remove the negative review from eham.
What HRD just did was extortion, N2SUB (Jim) paid for the software and now he can’t use it at all until he removes his review from eham.net. In some countries this is flat out illegal. Just recently, US president Obama signed the “Customer Review Fairness Act” into law which basically forbids what HRD just did.
Jim posted his experience on the QRZ.com forums. So far it was just hearsay until he posted his support ticket for all to see. Over on Twitter.com, @textfiles (Jason Scott) who is a well known internet archivist, questioned HRD about the support ticket. HRD replied that the ticket is “copywrited” and shouldn’t be posted and will be looking into alleged libel issue.
It appears HRD is doubling down in attempts to remove and/or coverup what happened. According to Jim, Rich Rhul (W4PC) called him on the phone and left him a voice mail where Rick threatened to sue him and will have Fred (Owner of QRZ.com) remove the thread. A short time later, the thread on QRZ.com was removed.
However it was too late. Since then news of what happened were posted on eham.net and the amateur radio subreddit over on reddit.com. As a moderator of the subreddit, this where I started following the story. At first I thought this was an isolated incident and that maybe the support staffer was having a bad day.
A bit later Fred (Owner of QRZ.com) posted his own version of what happened and his explanation for deleting the thread is that is was full of “misinformation”. He then added “QRZ would also like users to note that HRD is not a QRZ advertiser and other than for free technical exchange we have no business relationship.” In Fred’s version, he forgot to address the part about the extortion. This got the people on /r/amateurradio to really start looking at the actions of HRD and the relationship between QRZ.com and HRD.
Full out Streisand Effect.
In attempts to cover up HRD’s wrong doings, It caused more people to pay attention to what’s going on. It got people looking and many interesting things came up. There is indeed a business relationship between HRD and QRZ.com. There have been many times where Rick (co-owner) of HRD mentioned that him and Fred are “Business partners” and that HRD gave QRZ.com $$$ over the years for advertising. It’s also clear that QRZ.com staff delete threads and banned some of the users who were critical.
There is also a history of horrible abuse of customers by the HRD staff. HRD has license check server. When the software starts, it will check your callsign against their database. At the time, it would return one of three replies. You had valid, deleted and blacklisted. All of this was plain text on an un-encrypted server. The “blacklisted” return is what got the people over at amateur radio subreddit interested. User /u/fohdeesha started polling the server against negative reviews posted on eham.net and noticed that at least 50% of the negative review came back as “blacklisted”.
Since then many people stepped forward and shared their experiences with HRD. It’s apparent that this is no longer an isolated incident. People are being “blacklisted” because of poor reviews. They were even banned from the software because they were on a Yahoo group.
There was one thing in common… Rick. It’s apparent that he is the main source of all the negative issues. He is a co-owner, lead programmer and handling support. Most of the negative experiences users shared were in result of dealing with Rick. It appears he is a bully and very vindictive. Even support volunteers were stepping aside because of his actions.
Some time goes by and there is finally a response from the HRD staff. Rick replied on the thread on QRZ.com and on eham.net the following
We we have an official statement soon, but we do not condone anyone that blacklisted any ham for a bad review
As of today, Randy, Mike and I went though the license server and removed all blacklisted hams. That’s not good business or good policy.
More to come.
It was rather odd considering there is overwhelming evidence that he was the person that was blacklisting hams for bad reviews. From the looks of it, they were getting ready to blame someone else.
A short time later, another co-owner (Mike, WA9PIE) of HRD chimed in with a more official apology.
I want to make a statement of apology on behalf of HRD Software.
We regret that we have been unable to maintain our high standards of quality in our service to one of our customers. I have reached out to this customer to correct this regrettable situation. I am looking forward to speaking with him.
We apologize for what has happened here. I have stepped in and personally taken corrective actions to ensure that this mistake does not get made again.
It is not the policy or practice of HRD Software, LLC to retaliate, in any way, when negative reviews are made about our company, its products, or our employees. If this has happened in the past, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. We will strive to avoid, even the suspicion of, such things in the future.
Best wishes in your continuing enjoyment of our hobby.
It seemed to be a heartfelt apology and I personally thought it would end there. However some of the wording of the last couple paragraphs didn’t sit right. “It is not policy” and “If this has happened in the past” stuck out. Well it was policy because it was being done and it did happen. There is no question of IF.
Then Rick chimed in with
No one is going to be sued. I made a serious mistake and error of judgement in this and many cases and I am truly sorry.
Jim, I apologize publicly to you. I do have diabetes and sometimes this affects my judgement and it did in that voicemail I truly regret it. I’m talking to my Doctor about changing my medications so I wont have any more low sugars.
Randy, Mike and I are discussing my future with HRD.
It appears both Rick and Mike were treating this whole situation as an isolated incident. It was clearly not. Rick also blamed his poor treatment of Jim as a reaction to his low blood sugar at the time of the phone call. Their reactions angered me. Their attempts at an apology made it even worse. It also appears the Mike isn’t not really privy to what is really going on over at HRD. He does mention that he doesn’t participate in the day-to-day operations over at HRD and that he claims he had no idea of what was going on. Personally I believe for that to be false because there has been years of abuse and even other HRD staffers (volunteer) knew what was going on. However Mike is insisted that he did not know.
Why Should I Care?
I care about what is going on because I really do like the software and there is a chance that it will go away. I actually want to purchase it at some point. I’ve also been treated horribly by other amateur radio software developers. I was told by the support of a popular software that they weren’t going to support my homebrew hardware and that I should purchase the real thing instead of looking into my issues. That’s what I get for trying to shake the “appliance operator” that gets attached to newer hams.
Digging A Deeper Hole
One of the co-owners of HRD stuck around in the ongoing thread on QRZ.com in attempts to take blame and recover from the damage that was done. Even though he had good intentions, he made things much worse. This started getting the attention of some news markets. A major international IT related news publication, The Register (el reg) released an article about the whole HRD situation. They reached out to HRD for comment and HRD released a press statement that was basically deflecting what was going on and trying to define what they meant by “blacklisting”. HRD also claimed that it was “outside support staff” and not the co-owner that was responsible. That lead to a much bigger response to where The Register had to release another story about Ham Radio Deluxe a couple days later. HRD also deleted their twitter account which to me was an attempt to cover up some of the public tweets from HRD staff.
Since then there have been articles on Slashdot, Techdirt and many others about what has been going on. It even got attention from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). These aren’t some blogging websites like mine, these are some respected international publications and digital rights group. It’s not looking good for HRD and I honestly don’t want to see them go away. I wouldn’t want people to be out of work and I didn’t want to see this software tossed aside. But the actions from HRD are not helping.
About a week later, HRD annouced that co-owner Rick stepped aside and is now retired. HRD also claims they will be editing their EULA to renew their commitment to their customers. This is a step in the right direction. Some were sad to see Rick go but I feel it had to be done in order for HRD to move forward. I’ve publicly spoken with Mike and it appears he really cares about the company and HRD users. Even though I don’t agree with everything he said, it appears he is sincere and wants to improve.
HRD now faces an uphill battle. They no longer have their lead programmer, there are known bugs within the software and they are now swimming in a sea of negative press. I really hope that the staff from HRD learn from this and I hope other amateur radio developers learn from this as well. It goes to show that even one bad experience could lead to major trouble. Even though the term “The customer is always right” is often taken out of context, you should at least take the high road and respect those who prove to be difficult.
The future and their actions will set a precedence on what type of company they will be. I really do hope HRD recovers and even prosper from what happened. There are thousands of satisfied customers, hopefully there will be thousands more. Only time will tell.
Thanks for reading.
– Jeff (NT1K)
This article is of my opinion. I’ve came to this opinion based on what I’ve read throughout the past couple weeks. I try to be un-bias as much as possible. Since I do not work or have never worked for HRD, I am uncertain of what exactly happened. Just sharing what has been said elsewhere. I could be wrong. Please view the evidence for yourself.
The ARRL is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service by doing a year long event called “National Parks On The Air” or NPOTA.
It’s where operators go to National Parks and “activate” them by making contacts from the NPS site/unit. Chasers that make contact with the activators will get points which encourages more operation.
From my point of view it looks like the ARRL got the NPOTA idea by combing SOTA (Summits On The Air) with POTA (Parks On The Air). SOTA is very popular with portable operators but POTA is not as known. The POTA website hasn’t been updated in a long time but locally there is a group that are trying their best to keep POTA alive and well. Hopefully with NPOTA, it will get more people in POTA and hopefully it will improve.
I wanted to give NPOTA a try because there are a couple places locally that I can activate. It also seems that NPOTA is quite active on social media with their Facebook Group. I figured a dual SOTA/NPOTA would be perfect. Be able to do what I know and give NPOTA a try at the same time.
Short Notice Activation
Like usual, I decided the day of that I am going to do a dual activation. The weather forecast for the next week included cold, rain and snow. I figured this was my only shot but there was strong winds. I thought I could fight it and decided to activate Bare Mountain (SOTA W1/CR-014) in Hadley/Amherst Massachusetts as it’s close by and is on the National Scenic Trail (TR06).
Due to my past SOTA activations, I knew it’s best to spread the word so that I’m certain that my activation will count. I posted SOTAwatch, ARRL’s NPOTA upcoming activations page and numerous facebook groups. I am set!
Fighting The Wind
As I started my hike, the wind started to get worse and worse. There would be moments of calm followed by this huge gust of wind. I was worried that I wouldn’t even get my antenna up but it wasn’t stopping me. The hike wasn’t bad at all really. I was proud because I didn’t have to stop to catch my breath at all. Not sure if it was because I’m hiking more or that I am used to doing these hikes on snow and ice covered trails.
Setting up against the wind did prove to be a pain. The end insulators on my homebrew G5RV acted as a kite and cause some funny moments of me trying to secure the wire ends. Even the twin lead took to the wind.
Finally On The Air
The true reason why I did the activation was that I just purchased a new battery from Bioennopower through Hamsource.com . I wanted to test it out.
I found a nice quiet frequency on the upper portion of 20m and sent out a self spot on the SOTA cluster. Some operators get grumpy when someone self spots but this isn’t the CQWW contest. It’s some guy running low power and is portable on top a windy mountain.
After a few CQ’s some of the SOTA regulars come onto frequency and made contact. It was great to hear them because it confirms that I can at least get into the west coast since they were out of Washington state and Oregon. However I wanted those NPOTA pileups I hear so much about.
Thankfully someone from the SOTA group spotted me on the AR cluster. You can tell because it’s like someone opened up the flood gates. Calls were pouring in which put a huge smile on my face. I love pileups.
Since I was very excited because of the pileup, something had to go wrong. After 6 or so contacts, the pileup was silenced. I was hearing nothing. Due to the wind I had earbuds in my ears which blocked out the sound of my antenna falling. I scrambled to get everything back up and running. I picked up the antenna, added more straps/cord and got back on the air. During my first contact back on the air, the antenna mast collapsed. Once again I am scrambling to put it back up and making sure to tighten each telescoping section as best I can. I didn’t even have a chance to make it back to the radio when a big steady gust of wind came and pulled the BNC connector off the ladder line.
At this point I had enough contacts for a SOTA activation. I decided it was best to packup and leave. I didn’t even last 15 minutes on the air and I didn’t even make it to 0:00z or even to the other bands. It was getting dark and didn’t want to deal with it.
NPOTA Nut Jobs
Since I had to cut it short, I wasn’t able to get on 40m that I stated I was going to be on. In the SOTA world, it’s common for an activation to be cut short for weather reasons. However it doesn’t fly with some of the NPOTA chasers.
I attempted to post on the NPOTA facebook group that I had to go QRT due to the wind. However it didn’t stop people messaging me on Facebook and E-Mailing me. They were chastising me because I wasn’t on the air long enough and were upset because they were waiting for me on 40m and didn’t make enough contacts on 20m.
There was also a lot of poor operating during my short time on the air. There were at least 3 operators who didn’t seem to listen. I am not even sure if they heard me because they kept calling and calling even though I was in mid Q with someone else. I was also hearing other operators yelling at them to “Shut Up”.
I was very upset by the comments and poor operating at first until I realized that a good portion of these chasers probably never did a true portable setup before. A lot of the NPOTA activators are doing these activations from the comfort of their own vehicles and RV’s. They have the comfort to stay on for hours at time. I think the SOTA crowd is more understandable because they know what it’s like to be portable on top of a mountain. SOTA ops tend to make as many contacts as possible and get moving. However there is no excuse
Thoughts about NPOTA
I love the idea behind NPOTA. I hope it encourages more portable operating with POTA and SOTA after the event is over. But with what I see on the NPOTA Facebook group and my own personal experiences, there needs to be improvement.
Honestly I don’t think I will be publicly advertising that I am doing NPOTA activations in the future. The attitudes of some of the operators was just outright rude. Both on and off the air. You can’t “Turn the big knob” in this situation.
These are just my opinions, I very well could be wrong.