CQ: Amateur radio notes

By Toshen, KEØFHS – last updated Feb 2018
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1) Background

One of the challenges we faced during the flood that wreaked havoc in our area in 2013 was that our community was separated into "islands" that were physically cut off from each other and the rest of the world by the flood waters.

Having lost power, internet, landlines, and cellular service, we also were cut off from communicating with anyone outside our islands, including emergency services. For the better part of three days, we were in a very strange limbo.

1a) Emergency Preparedness

To address this type of vulnerability in the future, as well as to enhance community emergency preparedness in general, we formed Lyons Prepared, a volunteer citizen partnership with our Lyons Fire Protection District.

Lyons Prepared logo

At the recommendation of our fire chief and sheriff's department, we adopted MURS radios to provide backup communication between our neighborhoods and local emergency services.

1b) Amateur radio

My personal desire for even more robust communication capabilities inspired me to also get my ham radio license and to join our local Amateur Radio Emergency Service organization, Boulder & Broomfield Counties ARES.

Amateur Radio Emergency Service logo

A couple of us also started an informal local net to strengthen the ham radio network in our area: Lyons Area Amateur Radio Net (laarn.net).

Lyons Area Amateur Radio Net postcard

As I've gotten more involved in amateur radio, I've grown to appreciate what unique and wonderful opportunities it presents to serve our communities, learn new things, and have a good time. There's an article in the January 2000 issue of QST, the magazine published by ARRL (American Radio Relay League), that provides a great perspective on this: "Amateur Radio: 100 Years of Discovery" (PDF) by Jim Maxwell, W6CF.

Many thanks!

Thanks to the following mentors and learning resources:

Technician: July 31, 2015
General upgrade: June 1, 2017
Renewal date: July 31, 2025

2) Reflections of an amateur amateur

Although I'm still relatively new to the universe of ham radio, I've already enjoyed enough interesting learning experiences as well as stubbed my toes enough times to have gained a few insights that I figure might be worth sharing.

In the same spirit that motivates me to share my reflections about woodworking and the tools I use, I'm going to share info I wish I had found when I was browsing for ham-related insights.

2a) My "shack"

Yep, I'm a bit scrappy. My shack is a corner of a desk in my workshop, which is primarily a haven for my woodworking passion. My shop is so full of woodworking tools that there's not a lot of free space, so I have to make use of every cubic inch, for example, the monitor I use when logging into the Raspberry Pi is balanced (securely) on top of the water heater next to my desk, and a phonetic alphabet and morse code chart is taped to the side of that water heater. Hey, it works!

Base station

VHF/UHF – Dual band Kenwood TM-V71A with an RC-D710 control panel for APRS. It's a good base station for my purposes, given my focus on local-area emergency communications.

My radios and power supply sitting on the corner of my workshop desk

More about my "shack" »

2b) Mobile install

I'm not much of a car guy, so I'm pretty satisfied with—and a little surprised by—how well my installation of a Kenwood TM-V71A turned out, thanks to a combination of lots of sweat and even more luck.

Kenwood TM-V71A front panel and KES-3S speaker mounted in the cubby hole

More about my car installation »

2c) Diving into D-Star

When I first dove into D‑STAR, I knew nearly nothing about digital voice and quickly found myself drowning in a big bowl of bewilderingly murky information soup. SOS!

So if it's that bewildering, why even bother?

I'll jump a bit ahead here and share one tidbit: at one point early in my exploration of D‑STAR, I linked to a reflector and heard a guy in San Diego, California chatting with a chap in Yorkshire, England. That was the moment I became hooked!

Diagram of DV HTs connecting via personal access points to reflectors

More about D-Star »

2d) Discovering DMR

After weeks of intense learning and effort, I felt like I was just beginning to get a handle on D-STAR, having put together a nicely working solution for my shack as well as for mobile. So why did I so quickly adventure off in a new direction?

I guess I must be a bit crazy, but a learning opportunity presented itself, so I decided to dive right back into another bowl of baffling info-soup and learn how to swim all over again, this time in the DMR soup bowl.

Time slots interleaved on the signal

More about DMR »

2e) Playing with Pi-Star

After I heard some good things about Pi-Star from another D-STAR enthusiast, I decided to give it a try. After playing around with it for a while, I found that I really like it, so much so that as of Nov 2017, Pi-Star became my default hotspot software for the two digital radio modes I use: D-STAR and DMR. It also handles YSF and even P25 (when used with a multimode digital voice modem like the ZUMspot). If only it would do the dishes and take out the trash, too!

Pi-Star dashboard

More about Pi-Star »

2f) Zooming around with the ZUMspot

The ZUMspot RPi UHF Hotspot Board is a multimode digital voice modem created by the MMDVM team. It's a brilliant little board!

ZUMspot boardI paired it with a Raspberry Pi Zero W running Pi-Star. It was easy to set up and performs flawlessly for the two digital modes I use: D-STAR and DMR. It also handles YSF, P25, NXDN, and YSF2DMR.

I made a custom mahogany case for the ZUMspot + RPi Zero W, and then mounted it on a ruggedized rechargeable battery. It works equally well in the shop and in the car.

ZUMspot hotspot v4 in action with D-STAR and DMR

More about the ZUMspot »

⇄ Give me a holler!

You've got mail
ke0fhs at toshen.com