National Amateur Radio Equipment Manufacturers Recommendation

Last week the National Amateur Radio Manufacturers’ Association met in Orlando, Florida.  The annual invitation-only event is an industry get-together of major companies that make amateur radio equipment where trends in technology, standards, and the overall direction of amateur radio is discussed.

This year the industry group released an official recommendation regarding amateur radio equipment obsolescence, urging all amateur radio operators to replace all their rigs on an annual basis.  Several manufacturers spoke about the recommendation and the reasoning behind it.

Elecraft spokesman Ed Jabloski advised hams to follow the recommendation due to performance concerns.  “We released the K3S in May 2015 to address the now mediocre performance of the K3.  The K3S, which is nearly a year old, is approaching obsolescence.  We intend on releasing the K3S+ soon in which we improve several key performance metrics by at least a two tenths of a dB.  Amateurs not using this new and modern technology risk their QSOs while using substandard and aging rigs, like the K3.  But also, regardless of new model releases, having new rigs each year will insure that you have the latest and best performance from new components and software.”

Kenwood representatives had a different take on the annual rig replacement recommendation.  “We see it as more of something that gives hams peace of mind.” stated John Finley, of the Kenwood sales and marketing group.  “Take for example the Kenwood TS-590S.  That rig had a RF output power spike bug.  While we have a factory modification to correct the power spike issue, we released the updated TS-590SG which doesn’t have the nasty power spike.  Do you really want to be on the air with a rig with a output power spike problem?  I mean, it’s just very, very risky….very scary.  If you have a TS-590S you really should destroy it and buy a brand new TS-590SG.  And really, do this each year with all your transceivers.  It’s irresponsible to sell old rigs on Ebay.”

Baofeng attended the manufacturer event for the first time this year.  “We already support the annual rig replacement methodology.” noted Alex Taylor, a US Baofeng representative.  “Our rigs tend to last about a year anyway, and getting a new, fresh rig annually is common for our customers.  We’re proud that we have supported the annual rig replacement initiative from day one.”

The recommendation will undoubtedly have radio amateurs scrambling to refresh their hamshacks with new rigs, and may have a positive impact on Dayton Hamvention 2016 vendor sales and attendee numbers.  All manufacturer representatives at the National Amateur Radio Manufacturers’ Association event stated they were ramping up production to be able to support the recommendation and meet the demands of hams.



AO-73 Funcube and AO-85 Fox 1 Satellites Collide

In a shocking turn of events in the amateur satellite community, AMSAT-NA is claiming AMSAT-UK steered their AO-73 Funcube satellite into the AMSAT-NA AO-85 Fox 1 bird.  NORAD satellite tracking confirmed at 0200Z a combined debris path consistent with the orbits of both satellites.  Both satellites are silent and assumed totally destroyed.  AMSAT-NA officials in a press conference called the move by AMSAT-UK an “act of war” and promised swift retaliation but wouldn’t give details on the next move.  AMSAT-UK officials taunted AMSAT-NA with several incendiary tweets.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 17.44.04

In other satellite news, North Korea announced their plans to launch the first of many amateur radio satellites.  The satellites were described as being “worthy of Supreme Leader” and will feature outrageously over-modulated audio similar to North Korean state run television so that North Koreans can properly understand each other when communicating through the satellites.


The Sub-Hobby


It’s often been said that amateur radio is a hobby consisting of many sub-hobbies.  This is true when you consider the different modes we use (like RTTY, CW, PSK), technical endeavors like equipment design and building, special operating techniques like satellite and moonbounce, different bands each with their own characteristics and fans like LF, HF, VHF/UHF, and microwave, and activity based sub-hobbies like contesting and DXing.  It’s multidimensional and there is often overlap between the various sub-hobbies.

Unfortunately there’s a detrimental sub-hobby that’s been around a long time, perhaps as far back as when there was spark and a new mode called CW was emerging.  It’s complaining about what everyone else is doing or how they’re doing it.

I was reminded of this on an unnamed social networking site that starts with the letter F and rhymes with the word crook.  Perhaps you’ve been there.  A poster in an amateur radio group couldn’t make sense out of people sending and receiving CW using computers, and quipped that operating this way was taking the “radio out of radio”.  Never mind that you can’t do this sort of operating without a radio.  The most vocal complainers in amateur radio tend to rant about amateurs who don’t operate CW, so it was ironic that this complaint was about people actually operating CW but not in a way that the poster and others like to do it.  As expected, the discussion was lively with many people lamenting over this operating method, and a lesser few defending it.

Any time I look an amateur radio activity, I ask a few basic questions:

  1. Is someone getting enjoyment out of it?
  2. Is it not harming anyone else and not detracting from anyone’s enjoyment of the hobby?
  3. Does it positively reflect amateur radio, both within the amateur radio community and the general public, or at least not reflect negatively on the hobby?
  4. Is it spectrally and resource efficient, and reasonable from an engineering perspective?
  5. Is it consistent with the spirit and nature of amateur radio?

If you can answer YES to all of these questions, I see no reason to complain about the activity.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about amateur radio, it’s that if you’re more concerned about what others are doing, and not what you’re doing, and having fun doing it, it’s a sure fire way to be unhappy in amateur radio.

New Heathkit Antenna Offering

The reincarnated Heathkit company has a new product offering, the Pipetenna, a 2 meter and 440 antenna.  Heathkit claims the antenna is stealth and high performance, featuring a colored, rounded end PVC tubing sort of look.  It’s really not that difficult to build a stealth at VHF and UHF frequencies due to the short wavelengths involved.  The specifications of the antenna lists the gain on 2 meters as 6 dBi, which doesn’t scream high performance.  Puzzlingly, no gain figure is listed for 440.

Heathkit proclaims the antenna has multiple patents filed for many inventions in its design and is waterproof, yes waterproof.  I thought all antennas should be waterproof in the first place, or at least not be affected significantly by rain.  To Heathkit’s defense they go on about how it can be used on a ship or by the ocean where there is corrosive saltwater.  But this isn’t a really novel antenna feature.  What is perhaps a truly novel feature is the choice of colors, currently Light Sky Blue and Olive Green, with other colors such as Terracotta and Camouflage Green listed but grayed-out on the order form.

The antenna sports an N connector, with Heathkit citing that it eliminates an impedance bump, presumably when compared to the common UHF connector.  While this is technically true and the N connector is overall a better connector, the impedance bump of a UHF connector at 2 meters and 440 is negligible.  Furthermore, most of the target audience of this product probably have never dealt with an N connector before.  Perhaps more amateurs should become familiar with the N connector, but it’s overkill for this application.

The Pipetenna has me and presumably others scratching their heads, much like their premier offering, a pricey speaker-lacking TRF AM radio kit.  Overall the Pipetenna is heavy on marketing but light on compelling technical reasons to buy, in my opinion.  Amateurs wanting to learn about VHF/UHF antennas who aren’t so interested in a vintage Heathkit experience could better spend their money constructing a ground plane or J pole antenna.

While the new owners of Heathkit undoubtedly need to take baby steps in building what is essentially a new company from the ground up, these initial product offerings are disappointing and somewhat bizarre.  Some people probably have unrealistic expectations of Heathkit bringing back original tube radio kits from decades ago.  It’s not out of the realm of possibilities for Heathkit to release an updated HW-9 QRP rig or some new minimalist handful-of-2N2222s QRP rig.  Even if an “HW-10” design wasn’t significantly improved or a minimalist rig offering wasn’t a great performer, the QRP community, known for its rabid appetite for new rigs, would buy a new HW offering in droves.  Such a rig would be more true to Heathkit’s roots and legacy than the eclectic AM radio product.  The level of marketing is troubling as well.  The products need to speak for themselves and Heathkit needs to build a community of users that extoll the virtues of their products, something Elecraft has masterfully done and assumed the throne once occupied by Heathkit.  I don’t want to be a naysayer and I truly would love to see Heathkit succeed.  I think we all do.

Heathkit Pipetenna is a registered trademark of Heathkit.

This article originally appeared on Radio Artisan.

Answers to Top 10 Amateur Radio Questions on Social Media

With questions omitted:

10. No, that’s not a contest you heard on that WARC band.

9. You should probably study.

8.  Yes, the bands are dead and it’s not your rig/antenna/coax/ears/QTH.

7. Whatever rig/logging program/medication best fits your needs.

6. No, not all young people are lazy.

5.  Yes, that QSL/awards system is a PITA, but you’ll eventually figure it out like we did.

4.  It just is.

3.  Yes, we’ve heard the LIDs on that frequency and, no, you’re not the first person to hear them. Yes, the FCC knows about them, and no, you’re not going to stop them with your crusade/monitoring/recordings/complaints/hand-wringing/prayer group.

2. No one shops at that store anymore. Yes, it sucks and has for several decades. Don’t go to that store.

1. Google.

We Need a Better UHF Connector

The venerable UHF connector was developed in the 1930’s.  It has withstood the test of time and for the most part is a good connector for HF and VHF applications in amateur radio.  It’s fairly inexpensive, has somewhat intuitive assembly, and is mechanically robust.  From an RF perspective it’s not bad at HF and VHF, but despite the UHF name it exhibits an impedance bump at UHF frequencies and is usually avoided for UHF applications.

The UHF connector suffers from two problems, in my opinion.  One is that it’s not weatherproof.  You absolutely, positively should not have a UHF connector outdoors without weatherproofing.  If you do not weatherproof it, you will have water intrusion into the connector and probably into the braid of the coaxial cable.  Weather. Proof. It.  Connectors like the N connector  (a very common connector in commercial RF applications) which sports rubber gaskets on the mating surface and within the body of the connector are weatherproof, although it’s still advisable to use weatherproofing with the N connector.

The second issue is the difficulty in soldering the braid.  The holes in the body of the UHF connector expose the ground braid and you’re supposed to solder through these holes to make a positive connection between the braid and the connector body, and provide mechanical strength and stability.  Some folks pre-tin the ground braid before inserting it into the body, others do not.  You need a high wattage iron to do this properly and the heat required can melt the dielectric in the process.  I think many people don’t solder this well and some avoid doing it at all.

K3LR demonstrated an alternative method of soldering the braid to the PL-259 in this video:

I’ve tried this technique and for the most part it works.  (I prefer to use heat-shrink tubing around the exposed soldered braid.)  However, as you can see from the video it’s not pretty as it requires increasing the diameter of the dielectric with electrical tape, and there is not a snug fit between the connector body and the soldered braid and the coax jacket.  This technique in my opinion does provide a better braid electrical connection than most mere mortals can accomplish using the proper solder hole method, as the connector is intended to be used.

I think a PL-259 connector needs to be designed for this technique.  The body of the connector should have a smaller inner diameter in order to fit the diameter of the RG-213 dielectric.  The outer part of the connector body where the braid is soldered to it could be of a smaller diameter as well and perhaps have a gnarled surface in order to promote better adhesion of the solder.  I would like to see some sort of rubber gasket employed with the threaded sleeve for some weatherproofing, however I can’t think of a good way to implement this without affecting the electrical connectivity to the body.

Unfortunately I’m more a software guy and not very good at fabricating metal parts.  Someone with manufacturing experience could probably design this connector and perhaps make a small fortune.  It’s problem waiting to be solved.


The Radio Artisan group reached a milestone recently, surpassing 1000 members.  While I acknowledge some of these 1000 are undoubtedly inactive or spammer accounts, I consider this an accomplishment after starting this discussion group three years ago.  Originally intended as a support group for my Arduino open source amateur radio projects, I’m hoping to continuing expanding the group into general discussions involving DIY projects involving amateur radio and software code, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, and open source, and in cutting edge areas such as satellites and DSP.  I’m seeing more discussions in areas like this, especially with using Arduinos to automate shack functions.  My ultimate goal is to have this group continue regardless of my projects or participation.

I’m pleased that I’ve been able to keep the group friendly, civilized and free of mode wars, politics, and other nasties that tend to pollute some amateur radio forums.  There are a lot of smart and creative people from all around the world.  It’s great when we can all share in this great hobby.  (What is a radio artisan?)

The Idea Factory

The Idea Factory by John Gertner tells the story of Bell Labs from the 1930s to 1990s.  Bell Laboratories was the research arm of AT&T, the US phone company that had a monopoly position for decades, providing local phone service, long distance, and telecommunications equipment.  I just finished the book yesterday, and I highly recommend it. download Bell Labs was responsible for so many innovations and discoveries it is mind-boggling. In fact, it’s difficult to find a modern device or technology Bell Labs didn’t have some involvement in or influence on.  Some of the things they accomplished include inventing the transistor and solid state electronics, developed microwave communications, created the Unix operating system, created automated electronic switching of telephone calls, developed fiber optics, authored information theory which lead to the creation of the digital computer, developed integrated circuits, created lasers, launched satellites, invented solar cells, and designed cellular telephone.  Bell Labs was perhaps the greatest collection of inventors, scientists, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, academics, and metallurgists ever assembled.  What made Bell Labs so unique and so successful?  Some reasons include:

  1. Bell Labs researchers understood how and why the technology worked.  It was a departure from “cut and try” inventing, like that of Edison.
  2. All employees could talk to and mingle with any other employee, and the buildings and corporate culture was designed to insure this interaction.  Junior researchers could bounce ideas off of senior (and often famous) employees in hallways, meeting rooms, and even in dinners in their home living rooms.
  3. There was no direct motivation to produce usable, profitable products.  Some technology research, like the laser, even had no identifiable problem to solve or real life application at the time.
  4. There was no pressure for researchers to seek funding or grants.  Funding came from revenue from the long distance and local telephone service operating companies of AT&T.
  5. Research projects that were not bearing fruit could be ended without damning the researcher.
  6. Researchers were free to pursue their own side projects and interests, and were actually expected to take on projects other than their direct assignments.
  7. Bell Labs shared all technology and research with the public, due to an agreement with the US government in exchange to preserve its monopoly.

From the start of research to use in “The System” as they called the Bell System, was usually 20 to 30 years.  Technology and equipment were designed to last 40 years, or more.  Bell Labs was split from AT&T after Divestiture in 1984 and is now a shadow of itself, a division of Alcatel Lucent, still in the buildings in Murray Hill, NJ where the transistor was invented.  Their innovations continue to live on in most electronics and communications we use today. Gertner covers the technologies and inventions of Bell Labs, skillfully and accurately describing them in a way that non-techies can understand but also resonates with technical geeks like me.  More importantly he goes in depth into the history of the people that made it all happen, people like Claude Shannon, Mervin Kelly, John Pierce, and William Shockley, not only talking about their accomplishments but also their culture, family, struggles, idiosyncrasies, and failures. The book ends with somewhat of an indirect commentary on the demise of Bell Labs and the irony in that the technology they created led to Silicon Valley and the bubble/IPO/get rich quick and quarterly corporate financial results mentality we have today.  It’s no longer possible to achieve the monumental discoveries in major leaps like Bell Labs accomplished.  Unfortunately we have resigned ourselves to incremental improvements focused mainly on selling products, and not the pursuit of pure science and technology, which ultimately leads to better products and improvements in our lives.  Gertner makes note of the outstanding accomplishments of Bell Labs in light of the relationship with AT&T, the government, and the monopoly that was maintained, noting that it shows the tight relationship between government and capitalism.  I think there are lessons to be learned by both sides of the political spectrum from this, in regards to government involvement and regulations, and large corporations, both of which are often demonized today. The Idea Factory doesn’t specifically mention amateur radio, but undoubtedly many radio amateurs worked at Bell Labs.  I think the book and the story of Bell Labs offers some lessons for us, however.  While none of us will have grand accomplishments like Claude Shannon, we can be be innovators, be creative, and pursue technology and science for merely the sake of pursuing it.  Most of the major Bell Labs researchers came from modest means, often in rural America.  The next Brattain or Bardeen may be that young kid in our midst who is interested in radio, astronomy, science fiction, or microcontrollers.  We need to not be satisfied with just being operators of radio technology, but understand it and experiment, and create. My writing can’t do Bell Labs or The Idea Factory justice, however if you’re into technology and innovation, I highly recommend this book. This article originally appeared on Radio Artisan.

Dayton 2015 – Part 2 of ?

(…continued from Part 1)

This year I stayed in downtown Dayton, at the Dayton Marriott.  It was my first experience driving in downtown Dayton as last year I stayed at a hotel close to Hara north of town.  Dayton has obviously seen better days, and folks walking the streets living in poverty is a common sight.  Driving through downtown Friday morning I wondered what the locals thought of all the vehicles with antennas driving by for one weekend out of the year.  Do they know anything about amateur radio?  The word Dayton to us means amateur radio Mecca, but to them Dayton is just the place they live day in and day out, trying to eek out a living.  They were likely born here, will die here, and probably will not get to see much of the world outside of Dayton.  I think back to my childhood growing up in backwoods Pennsylvania, and I’m thankful for the people and opportunities I had that made me successful and steered me away from several perhaps less fortunate alternative realities.  Amateur radio was undoubtedly a positive influence, one that got me to where I am technically and professionally today.

Dayton has overhead electric wires for trolleys.  I can’t recall ever seeing this in my travels.  I didn’t see any trolleys, however there were several city buses using the overhead electric wires.  I wondered what it would take to equip an electric car with poles to attach to the electric lines and and get free energy for your vehicle (evil grin).   IMG_5696

Electric Avenue

Last year I promised myself that in 2015 I would spend less time on the flea market and more time on the floor and in forums.  I was partially successful, attending one additional forum this year, the Clandestine Spy forum.  This was a standing-room only presentation covering the equipment and techniques used by the Resistance during WWII.  There were a lot of photographs.

The AMSAT forum covered all the activities and projects the organization is working on, of which there are many.  In the Fox 1 program there are four or five satellite projects in progress and at various phases.  The big news was the potential for a geosynchronous payload, something satellite aficionados have been fantasizing about for decades.  The amount of work that goes into these projects from an engineering, fundraising, political, and project management perspective is mind-boggling.  It can’t be understated how complex this is.  It is indeed rocket science.  The expertise and human resources behind all this is impressive, and I can’t imagine the amount of time AMSAT volunteers and officers spend on this, as most undoubtedly have day jobs in engineering, technology, and science fields. IMG_5710


One speaker in the AMSAT forum presentation touched upon something that really struck a cord with me and others.  Kids often see amateur radio operators as just operators.  What really sparks interest in kids are experimenters and experimentation.  What AMSAT is doing is experimentation, and at an extreme level.  Space is interesting to kids, but it’s difficult to be hands on with it due to the very nature of it, and these satellites and the projects AMSAT is leading gives them access to this.  AMSAT goes beyond providing flying repeaters for amateurs, but also partners extensively with universities, government agencies, and K-12 schools. IMG_5712

Where to find Fox 1

This is not meant to belittle other activities within amateur radio, but I don’t think most people realize just how complex and far-reaching the activities of AMSAT-NA and other AMSAT organizations around the world are, and the benefit this offers to amateur radio today and into the future.  While ragchewing, contesting, and DXing are traditional staple activities within amateur radio, the work of AMSAT has real world impact, and this is a vehicle for getting new people into amateur radio, ones that will likely stick around for the long haul.  Case in point, sitting behind me during the presentation were two young guys, both from Virginia Tech and recently licensed.  They are involved in an AMSAT project writing software for one of the birds.  In talking with them it was clear they were very intelligent and they had a passion for what they were doing.  Undoubtedly they will get high-paying engineering jobs upon graduating.  Will they ever pick up a microphone or CW key?  Maybe not, but satellite work has them hooked and it looks great on a resume. As one AMSAT speaker half jokingly quipped, there is no free launch. All of this costs money, and a lot of it.  AMSAT is continually seeking donations and new members.  With my annual membership running out, I decided to take the plunge and sign up for a lifetime membership.

The Ballonsat forum was quite interesting and was well attended with a good number of movers and shakers who frequently launch, track, and recover balloons and payloads.  A new area covered was pico balloons which are smaller balloons with extremely lightweight and small payloads.  Several people have been launching these around the world with great success, some traversing the globe five to ten times.

Friday night I attended the DX Dinner and got to network with movers and shakers in the DX world.  It was worth the cost of the meal as I won a Comet antenna analyzer door prize.  Not surprisingly, K1N was announced as the the DXpedition of the year.


DX Pileup

While I lamented about about flea market Neanderthals in the first part of this article, there were positive social aspects to the Hamvention.  One morning walking in the crosswalk across the road going into Hara I observed an attendee thanking a black police officer stationed in the street for his service as a police officer.  At lunch I could strike up a friendly conversation with anyone, total strangers.  Folks stopped me to take a picture of my Morse code key tee shirt, many commented and laughed about it.  There continues to be a sense of camaraderie in amateur radio.  For this I’m thankful. IMG_5714

Flea Market Pedestrian Mobile

The ARRL area was superb.  ARRL folks should be commended on the layout and organization of their area.  They have all the bases covered and all booths within the area were well staffed.  I brought a stack of QSL cards in for DXCC checking.  The staff there did a great job of helping me out, after figuring out I initially screwed up my paperwork.  I’ll continue to say it, but despite ARRL’s flaws and our disagreements, we are truly lucky to have such a hardworking organization within amateur radio. IMG_5691


Those often annoying, sometimes threatening death machines known as rental scooters continue to roam the Hamvention.  I don’t know if it was that I’ve become more accustomed to them or there truly are less of them, but it sure seemed to me that there weren’t as many as last year.  What’s happening to the scooter people?  Are they dying off?  Are they disappearing during the Hamvention?  Inquiring minds want to know. Undoubtedly the liability insurance for such an activity would be expensive, but I would love to have a scooter demolition derby some Hamvention afternoon.  Folks could rent dilapidated scooters or bring their own pimped-out scooters for a battle royale of destruction and excitement.  (Hamvention committee members, I can make this happen, you know where to reach me.  I want a cut of the profits from beer sales. :-)

….to be continued…

This article was originally published on the Radio Artisan blog.