DX Century Club

Today, I became a member of The DX Century Club (DX is shorthand for distance). I have confirmed contacts with amateur radio stations in 100 distinct geographic and political entities in the official DXCC List. It took me a little over a year to make all of the needed contacts, gleaned from over 1660 total confirmed contacts.

All of the following contacts were made using the FT8 digital mode, with no more than 100 Watts. My antenna is a G5RV, a simple dipole antenna with 30 feet of ladder line, and a 6-inch diameter “ugly” balun with 10 turns of the feed line. The antenna and transceiver are pictured below:

This demonstrates that big towers, antennas, and high power are not needed to work the world.

My First 100 Confirmed Countries for DXCC

AlaskaChinaGhanaLuxembourgSt. Lucia
AlbaniaColumbiaGreeceMadeira IslandsSt. Vincent
AndorraCosta RicaGuadeloupeMaltaSan Andres Island
Asiatic RussiaCuracaoHawaiiMonacoSerbia
AustraliaCyprusHungaryMoroccoSlovak Republic
AustriaCzech RepublicIcelandNambiaSlovenia
Balearic IslandsDominicaIrelandNew CaledoniaSweden
BarbadosDominican RepublicIsraelNew ZealandSwitzerland
BelarusEcuadorItalyNorthern IrelandTrinidad and Tobago
BelgiumEl SalvadorJapanNorwayTurkey
Bosnia-HerzegovinaEstoniaKazakhstanPolandUnited Arab Emirates
BrazilEuropean RussiaKenyaPortugalUnited States
BulgariaFederal Republic of GermanyKuwaitPuerto RicoUruguay
CanadaFiji IslandsLatviaRepublic of South AfricaVirgin Islands
Canary IslandsFinlandLebanonRodriguez IslandVenezuela
Confirmed QSOs

I will continue to make more contacts to achieve the many endorsements (e.g. 100 entities on a single band). I already have 75 contacts just on the 40-meter band.

Sending A Radiogram Via WinLink

WinLink is a powerful software tool for sending and receiving digital messages via amateur radio. This post shows how a National Traffic System radiogram is sent. Belowis the main WinLink software user interface. The “Message” tab at the top of the main page is selected and the “New Message…” command is selected to create a message.

The “Enter a new message” window appears. The message needs to be entered, addressed, and formatted to send a radiogram. To proceed, select the “Radiogram” tab. I have previously setup the tab since I frequently use that template. Otherwise, use the “Select Template” tab to find the Radiogram.txt template from the many other message templates.

In either case, the Radiogram template is brought up in your default web browser. The message number, call sign, date, and other defaults are already filled. The information for the addressee, message, signature, and liaison station is now entered.

Here the radiogram is ready for submission. The ARL designation in the body of the message is for one of the pre formatted numbered messages. In this case it’s for the “Greetings by amateur radio” message. The ‘X’ is a period and ‘73’ means “Best Regards.”

After the “Submit” button is clicked, the “Enter a new message” WinLink window now has the “To”, “Cc”, “Subject”, and formatted NTS radiogram message boxes filled.

When the radiogram is satisfactorily formatted, click on the “Post to Outbox” tab. The radiogram is now in the “Outbox” system folder in the main WinLink window. To send the message, verify that “Vara HF Winlink” is selected from the “Open Session” dropdown menu. Then click on the “Open Session” tab.

The “Vara HF Winlink Session”, and “Vara HF” modem windows are opened. Therese is the interface for the HF radio that is connected to the PC via a USB cable.

Click on the “Auto-connect” tab to set the frequency and begin transmitting. The software will cycle through the list of server stations until a connection is made. Then the message is sent, and any outstanding incoming messages are received.

Here is a video of the radio connection process.

Radiogram Transmission using VARA HF in WinLink

Field Day 2022

Field Day has come and gone and I feel like I have had my best Field Day ever.

I made 80 unverified FT8 digital contacts with stations around The United States and Canada. Each of those contacts counts for 2 points for a total of 160 points. A 2x power multiplier makes that 320 points. I sent 59 and received 48 NTS formatted messages. Ten of those messages originated at my station and counted 10 points each. I also sent one to The Western Pennsylvania Section Manager which counted for 100 points during The Western Pennsylvania Phone Traffic Net. There are also 100 bonus points for submitting this post.

I have submitted my entry with a possible score of 670 points, which will be added to the results for my local radio club, The Nittany Amateur Radio Club.

2022 Western PA Spring Simulated Emergency Test

The Western PA (WPA) Section Spring Simulated Emergency Test (SET) was held this morning from 9 AM until 12:30 PM EDT (1300-1630 UTC). I was an active participant serving as an official relay station.

The purpose of the SET was to find out the strengths and weaknesses in providing emergency communications. It also provided a public demonstration of the value to the public that amateur radio provides, particularly in time of need. It also helped radio amateurs to gain experience in communications using standard procedures and a variety of modes under simulated emergency conditions.

The emergency test scenario was as follows: freezing rain and dense fog made for hazardous road conditions. A train hit a tractor trader containing hazardous materials of unknown composition and several rail cars derailed. Local utilities were affected and power lines were arcing in the area. People are also experiencing eye and throat irritation. National Weather Service Skywarn and American Red Cross were activated.

The amateur radio propagation today was generally poor. However, radio messages were successfully handled. I was asked to monitor the 60-meter band but there was nothing but noise. I regularly checked into the WinLink digital stations WIAW and W6IDS. The latter had a significantly better signal on the 40-meter band. I also checked in with a local 2-meter station to pass messages (traffic), and into a voice net on the 75-meter band.

At end of the exercise, I had originated one message, sent 3, received 2, and delivered 1 for a total of 7 messages handled.

Digital Traffic Network

This week, my amateur radio station became an official digital traffic network (DTN) station. The main operating digital mode is PACTOR, an evolution of both AMTOR and packet radio. PACTOR uses a combination of simple phase shift keying (FSK) modulation, and the ARQ protocol for robust error detection and data throughput. PACTOR is most commonly used on frequencies between 1 MHz and 30 MHz.

I first looked into PACTOR last fall. I abandoned the idea when I learned that the terminal node controllers (TNCs) cost hundreds of dollars, an investment I was not comfortable making at the time. In December, I asked around about becoming a DTN station operator. I was told that the operational mode was PACTOR and I balked about having to obtain the necessary TNC. Then I was told that a used TNC would be provided. All I had to pay was a $15 dollar shipping charge. That was more than acceptable. Soon, the loaner TNC arrived. It was about 25 years old and supposedly could handle the required PACTOR digital node.

Advanced Electronic Applications, Inc. PK-232MBX TNC

I found a appropriate AC/DC adapter, but I had to jury-rig a mic cable to connect it to my radio and the 5 pins on the back of the TNC. I also had a audio cable on hand for the radio output to the TNC. An RS-232/serial port USB adapter cable connects the TNC to my laptop PC.

Breadboard for connecting a CAT6 twisted-pair cable to the TNC

The AirMail software was downloaded and installed on my laptop. That needed to be configured to interface with the TNC. The TNC was switched on and AirMail was opened. Following initialization of the HF mode, the TNC successfully initialized. My radio AGC was set to 6 and for 40 watts output. It was then tuned to a frequency for a nearby PACTOR station. Then the receive threshold was properly set on the TNC. I tried to connect to a PACTOR station but no joy.

After several days of troubleshooting, with the assistance of two fellow amateur radio operators, I tried a loopback test on the TNC. This involved disconnecting the TNC from the radio and connecting the mic and audio input pins, on the TNC, with a jumper wire. Then a terminal software app was setup to connect the TNC with itself. This test failed and indicated the problem was with the TNC.

I was able to obtain an identical TNC on eBay for a modest and very affordable price. When it arrived, I quickly set it up for a loopback test. The test was successful. I then connected it to my laptop and radio, and it successfully connected to a PACTOR station. The operators of two PACTOR stations modified their configurations to recognize my station. Then I was able to send and retrieve national traffic system (NTS) messages.

I now routinely log in to retrieve NTS messages from The 3rd Region Hub for The Western Pennsylvania Section, on every even numbered day, sharing the responsibility with another amateur radio operator who checks in on odd numbered days. After retrieving messages, I relay them via The Western Pennsylvania Phone Traffic Net, or deliver them via phone, email or US Mail. I also originate my own messages to send via the NTS.

Contact me if you wish to originate an NTS message.

Field Day 2020

Field Day 2020

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Field Day is the most popular on-the-air event held each year, on the fourth weekend in June, in The United States and Canada. More than 40000 radio amateurs gather to operate from remote locations. It is a time where many aspects of amateur radio come together to highlight its many roles. It is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate its emergency capabilities to organizations and the general public. Despite the development of modern communications systems, they can fail. When they do, amateur radio can provide communications support during emergencies and post-disaster situations.

This year was different due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Instead of gathering and setting up at public locations, amateur radio operators (hams) were encouraged to operate from home. In addition, one rule was waived to allow those operating on commercial power to contact other stations that were also operating on commercial power. All other rules applied. Some hams operated on power provided by batteries, generators, solar panels, or other means not using commercial power.

Hams across North America communicated using voice, morse code (carrier wave or CW), and many digital modes. They operated to make as many contacts as possible from 2 PM EDT on Saturday until 2 PM EDT on Sunday. According to the rules, those that waited until 2 PM Saturday to set up their stations were permitted to operate until 8 PM on Sunday.

As for myself, I made 28 contacts on the 20 and 40-meter bands using the digital phase shift keying 31 baud mode (PSK31). Each contact sent digitally is worth 2 points each. Since I used only 50 watts of power, I qualified for a multiplier of 2, so my score was 112 points. I also sent 10 formal radiograms (100 points), including one to the ARRL Western Pennsylvania Section Manager (another 100 points). Finally, I submitted my Field Day entry electronically (another 50 points). My preliminary total was 462 points. I made contacts in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Ontario.

2020 Spring SET

Today was the 2020 Spring Simulated Emergency Test (SET) amateur radio network in western Pennsylvania. The SET is a training exercise involving the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the National Traffic System (NTS), a message-handling service of amateur radio.  Its primary purposes are to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in emergency preparedness and communications and to demonstrate amateur radio to the public.

My simulated position was at The Grays Woods Elementary School Emergency Shelter. However, I was actually operating from my home VHF/UHF and HF base stations. We were all sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was mainly operating on 75 meters using the Olivia digital mode.

We were sending formal formatted messages to net control. I sent three pieces of traffic containing shelter status. However, it got a bit silly at the end of the exercise. There was a message announcing the touch down of a tornado west of Pine Grove Mills in The PSU Ag fields. Then there was a voice message concerning a hungry elephant found in a closet at Juniper Village.

More Antenna Woes

Being an amateur radio operator, I occasionally have to deal with equipment maintenance issues. I first noticed the problem when I found it difficult to communicate with several nearby VHF/UHF repeaters. Then, I noticed that my HF radio would not tune on 75 meters. I checked on all of my indoor cables and found no problems, so I ventured outside and noticed the following significant damage to my amateur radio antenna system.

Apparently, an animal had chewed through my VHF/UHF feed line. My dogs didn’t do it because it was outside of the fence.

There was also damage to the HF ladder line feed to my G5RV antenna. There were many visible tooth marks. The coax around the balun was destroyed. These components we’re well outside of the fence.

I used an auxiliary feed as a temporary fix for my VHF/UHF Yagi. I needed to obtain a new G5RV antenna.

Update: 3/4/2020
I installed a new G5RV antenna today. I also cleaned the corrosion from my feed line connectors at the balun. I was able to tune up on 75 meters.

More Antenna Woes

Today, one leg of my G5RV antenna snapped off due to the extreme cold and windy conditions. The temperature now is 9 F with a windchill of -8 F. My HF system is now out of commission until I can install a new antenna, or install the new dedicated 80-meter antenna. Sunday it will warm to the low 40s so that is the earliest I can make the attempt. Temperatures will be above freezing from Sunday until at least next Tuesday.


Right now it looks as though my NTS production for January will be a total of 41 handled messages. That is a personal monthly record.


Update: G5RV antenna was replaced.