Before I went into any topics, I wanted to outline some of the goals I have for this blog. This is mostly to assist you in navigating through everything, but also to give readers a heads up as to what you will see here in the future. This is important since not all blogs are the same or offer the same focus.
I want the focus of this blog to be education. More specifically, learning radio techniques or information that I learned through trial and error. This will be education through product reviews, tutorials, successes/failure reports, etc. I want to leave it a little open ended as this will allow for a diversity of material. At the end of the day, the blog should be to inform the reader of my experiences and allow for learning through that experience to allow for an informed decision on the part of the reader. Meaningful failure is a powerful learning tool. If I can give you my current thought process, you may be able to find a way to expand on this to make an improvement. The only thing I ask is that you stay in the conversation. Leave a comment or send me an email. This way, we can both learn.
What This Is Not
This is a place for others to learn. Learning is not promoted through condescending comments or personal attacks. There are products which I’ve purchased and enjoyed that others do not like, and vise versa. This doesn’t mean that your opinion is invalid. It just may not fit my use case. For example, I think the technology in the Icom IC-7851 are amazing. It is an example of what companies should strive for with high-end radios. I would never purchase one myself, because it isn’t a portable radio that I could use with SOTA activations. Compare the Yaesu FT3DR and VX-6R. For at home or around town use, the FT3DR is the Rolls-Royce of HTs, yet I would not take it to Michigan to do research in the dunes. The VX-6R is a more robust radio for that situation. I like to think of it as tools in a tool belt. Just because I say that I wouldn’t purchase a radio doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. It also doesn’t mean that you can hide behind the anonymity of the internet to attack myself or anyone choosing to read/comment. We are all people. This is about learning. If this blog doesn’t fit what you need, move on. There are a lot of amateur radio websites and one of them has to have information you need. I’ve never read a nasty comment and thought, “You know what? The guy who said I look like ET when he is dying is right. I should take an IC-7800 on a SOTA activation. Why didn’t I ever think of that?” Disrespectful and nasty comments do not help move the conversation forward.
How to Participate
I’m not here to sell you a product. If I own a product, I’m giving you my personal experience. Leave a comment about your experience if you own the same product. It may provide some insight that will inform a reader to make a decision. If you see me doing something wrong, leave a comment or send me an email. I can always go back and edit a post. I can always make a new post that follows up. I have a post planned for APRS. When I first started with APRS, I used the 9600 baud rate. After some trial and error, I found out that APRS uses 1200 and not 9600. After I changed one setting, APRS worked for me. If I would have had this blog, it would have been easier to read the comments or check my email and made a simple fix.
Another way to participate is to chat. I realize that there may be great distance between us but with the power of the internet and digital radio, we can communicate like we are sitting next to each other. Echolink is an option. So is WiRES-X nodes. Anyone who has browsed through the WiRES-X node list has seen all of the rooms that are empty. We can jump into one and have a conversation. I’m open to hearing what everyone has to say.
If this blog gets bigger, I’m not against taking sponsors. That being said, I will not take a sponsorship from a company that directs my content. I’m not here to read off a script. I’m here to be honest with my experience. If a product needs work, I need the freedom to give feedback. Giving false or guided information to readers can lead to lower consumer trust in the product but also lead to lower confidence in myself. I will also be straight-forward with sponsors. Sponsors will be identified and sponsored content will always be labeled so it is easily noticed.
How Can You Support
You can support by reading and engaging in the blog. Share my page with anyone who may be interested. I plan to make a YouTube channel and will post when that is live. At the time of this writing, the cameras and equipment are on their way. I’m only waiting on some memory cards for the camera and voice recorder. When these are in, there will be more images. The YouTube channel name has been reserved, but no videos have been post. You can support through YouTube by subscribing. I have no plans to start a Patreon. I’m not against Patreon, but it isn’t for me. I have a comfortable living and don’t want to treat viewers differently because they pay. None of my content will be locked behind a paywall. There is no charge to learning.
There will be other opportunities for support in the future. Keep an eye out for when this information is posted. I will update this section with that information in the future.
A Thank You
Finally, thank you for even reading. I am just one person on a planet of 7+ billion people. If I can make a difference in someone’s life, I’ve met my goal of bettering the world. Not all blogs are good quality. I want to provide readers with honest information in a quality format. There will be improvements, hopefully all are for the better. It wouldn’t be possible without readers. So thank you for taking time from your day to read.
The struggle is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit. In this context, the struggle is having a limited amount of funds to spend on ham radio. For some, the struggle is real. Not everyone has an unlimited budget to spend on everything they want. The issue comes from the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers are the ones who feel that real ham radio is whatever they do. These typically consist of HF operators who spend more than 90% of their time on CW. They don’t use HTs as that is a piece of tech equipment. They swear that straight keys are the best, even though they use paddles. They hate new equipment with digital filters simply because “they isn’t real ham radio” to them. They have embraced the struggle. They want everyone to embrace it, regardless of economic status.
Reddit and QRZ Forums
I was on Reddit this weekend. Some guy posted a picture of five or more HTs, most of which were flagship (top of the line) or near it. I thought this was really awesome, probably because I do the same thing. I like HTs. They are small and portable. I can carry it with me. I gave it a like and went to see if he posted a follow-up in the comments. This was my fault. I knew I should have avoided the comments. At the time, only one comment was positive. The rest were berating him for spending so much money on HTs when he could have purchased an HF radio and an antenna (see point above). The old gatekeepers came in talking about how they don’t have HTs. Want to guess why? That is correct. “It isn’t real ham radio.” God forbid someone should enjoy the hobby the way they want. They primary focus of the comments was centered around all the money he “wasted” on HTs. One was an FT3DR, which has System Fusion. One was a Kenwood TH-D74, which does D-STAR. I believe he had an Anytone, which is DMR. They all filled a different role. There were a few more in the picture. I’m going to make an assumption. He enjoys digital voice. Because of this, he wanted options for digital voice. I see nothing wrong here. He wants to enjoy the hobby his way. Unfortunately, the negativity was too much.
This morning, I jumped onto QRZ and saw a post by a YouTuber about the IC-705 and a tuner. I don’t remember the YouTuber since most just produce the same content (read that as most, not all). I was interested since I have an IC-705, and my biggest complaint is the lack of an internal tuner. Again, the comments didn’t disappoint. They went after him for using a tuner and not having a resonant antenna, since it wouldn’t fit in a go-bag. The biggest complaint was the cost. The IC-705 is already a pricey radio for some. Tuners for it aren’t inexpensive. The AC-705 is around $300. But if you are going to invest in the IC-705, you should have enough to invest in the accessories, like a tuner or a case. This is like purchasing a Bugatti and complaining the tire change is $20k. If I spend $1,500 on a radio, another $200 for a tuner and $100 for a case is worth it. This isn’t my opinion. This is common sense thinking.
Maybe It Isn’t For You
This isn’t made to poor shame someone. I’ve made a comfortable living over my life and have a disposable income. I enjoy watch collecting, cycling, and ham radio. All three are relatively expensive hobbies. My daily wear watch is an Omega Seamaster. New, it is $5,200. It isn’t for made for everyone. If you think that is too much for a device that only tells the time, it isn’t made for you.
The IC-7851 is a $12,500. It does nearly everything that an HF radio can do. If you think it is too expensive, it isn’t made for you. It is missing a few features, like a wide-range antenna tuner. The internal tuner can do 3:1 on HF and 2.5:1 on 6 meters. But most people who can afford a $12,500 radio would most likely have or have no problem with getting an external wide range tuner. They wouldn’t complain that it is too much or that they use resonant antennas. They probably can’t hear the complaints over all the filters included in their radio.
The IC-705 is $1,300 on DX Engineering, which is on the pricier end of QRP. At the same time, it isn’t made for everyone. It is made for a particular group of people. If you think it is too expensive, maybe it isn’t for you.
There isn’t anything wrong with living in your budget. Not every radio is made for you. I don’t like the lab599 Discovery TX-500 (just rolls off the tongue) isn’t made for me. For someone wanting to get into QRP that doesn’t want to spend over $1,000, it is a great radio. I would mention the Yaesu FT-818, but that radio is terrible. Did you know you could still buy reel-to-reel audio tapes? They are still around and are decent sound quality. The tapes are $600. Buying a reel-to-reel tape is a better spend of $600 than the FT-818. Even if you don’t own a reel-to-reel player, it is a better purchase with your $600. The lab599 isn’t for me. The FT-818 isn’t for anyone.
It is just aggravating seeing the amateur radio community turn on each other, especially since there aren’t many of us to begin with. We need to band together as a community and be supportive of each other. The Radio Amateur’s Code on the ARRL website states that the radio amateur… “offers loyalty, encouragement and support to other amateurs, local clubs,…”, meaning we need to act like a community. With everything that divides us as a nation, this should be the one thing that unites us as amateurs. Instead, some have found it as a way to shame others from enjoying this hobby their way.
I would encourage everyone to stop the negativity. It takes a simple comment. “We don’t shame others in amateur radio. We support them.” If you are one who is negative, what are you getting out of it? Have you ever seen someone come at you with a negative comments and thought to yourself, “Wow. I’ve been doing this wrong the whole time.”? Do you expect someone to see your comment and think the same thing? Shaming someone in amateur radio for spending their money on what they enjoy is sad. Don’t be that person. Be the person we want to make a contact with.
If you missed part 1, I talked about our handhelds and the day to day use of them in the dunes. It is an interesting read, though I feel the results are pretty self explanatory from the introduction. The results are important in driving home a point that I emphasize quite a bit. You get what you pay for.
Leading up to the trip, there was a question that I asked myself. What radio do I take with me? Do I take my FT-991A? It has 100 W, a built-in tuner, and few compromises, except one. I needed to take along power. Do I take my IC-705? It has power, a built-in sound card, a tuner (the AH-705), and few compromises, except one. It is 5 W. In an effort to simplify my setup, I took the IC-705.
For me, I prefer a clean setup. I don’t like clutter. I see setups where there are multiple radios and tuners with amps plugged in. Monitors grace the desk and walls. Computers sit around, even if non-functional. There is too much happening. I prefer everything to be clean. I’ve been stalling on getting an external antenna tuner, because it is another piece of clutter on the desk.
The IC-705 was the simplest setup for me. It has a built-in battery supplying power. It can charge over USB, granted it is the older micro standard and not USB-C. The only external device is the tuner, which is a necessary evil in this instance as the IC-705 has no built-in tuner. The FT-991A tuner isn’t great, but it does alright. This is better than not having one. The external tuner isn’t really large. It runs off AA batteries, which is disappointing that it doesn’t contain a rechargeable battery. It begs the question as to why it wasn’t just included. The main complaint that everyone seems to voice is the lack of an internal tuner, which can be solved with a resonant antenna. Either way, I prefer having one, even with a resonant antenna. It just gives more options.
Another drawback, at least for me, is the 5 W power limit. I’m not a skilled enough operator for 5 W. Not only that, but in a field deployment, I typically use an antenna with a compromised height. This means that I would like a little more than 5 W. The IC-705 does to 10 W with external power, but I see it as a small setup that I can throw in a bag, not a full sized setup that needs “support” behind it. If I need to bring external power, I would just bring my FT-991A and turn the power down. The FT-991A does take up more space, but it has a built-in tuner.
The IC-705 also does VHF/UHF out of the box, unlike the Elecraft’s add-on modules. A roll-up j-pole antenna could be thrown into a tree and give VHF/UHF capabilities. This was used once on the trip, where my wife used Echolink to patch into the local repeater, and we were able to talk. I had little to no cell service, and the Wi-Fi was a joke (2 mb/s on a good day). Having VHF/UHF out of the box just expands options. In order to fit everything into a small form factor, there is only one antenna port, meaning only one antenna can be used at a time. On a trip, it would be more convenient to take a handheld for VHF/UHF rather than relying on the IC-705 to fill that role.
I never understood the obsession some hams have with the Raspberry Pi. They shun Windows computers like hipsters shunning non-craft beers. It is almost like a cult personality. There are so many add-ons and workaround needed to get it working. Compare that to a Windows PC where all of the programs I need exist. I haven’t found a program that I use for the RPi that doesn’t exist on Windows. That being said, I like the simplicity. I purchased one… two… three RPi. I have one that I use as my radio computer, one runs Volumio for my audio, and one is my Pi-Star hotspot.
On the radio Pi, I downloaded WSJT-X, fldigi, JS8Call, and hamrs. This is completely my fault, but I should have checked functionality before I left. JS8Call doesn’t work natively with the IC-705 without a workaround. This is true for the Windows version also. Also, hamrs failed to boot. The Wi-Fi, as mentioned before, was too slow to download an update. This left me with WSJT-X. It worked. As far as fldigi, I don’t use it but have it installed. I will use it one day… but that day isn’t today… or tomorrow.
One saving grace was that hamrs released an Android version, which is really good. I has all the functionality of the Windows version but on your phone. It does cost $5, but it is $5. For the amount of work the developer is doing and what it brings, I am glad to support the developer with $5. It is my go-to logging software. It doesn’t offer as much functionality as N1MM, but it is much easier to use. It doesn’t take a double PhD in computer science and electrical engineering to work. Everything is set out in a straight forward manner. When I first installed it, the functionality was extremely simplistic. A paper log was more advanced. Fast forward a month and it is hardly noticable from the original version.
I love digital modes. I haven’t told my story about my first HF contact, but it does give some backstory as to my mentality in amateur radio. I got my General a month after my Technician. A month after that, I purchased my FT-991A. I strung an antenna between two trees in my backyard, getting my EFHW and impressive 7 ft off the ground. I spun the dial on 40 m and heard a gentleman asshole calling CQ. I responded. It was the ARRL sweepstakes weekend. I didn’t know the report to give him. He tore into me and told me how I didn’t deserve to be on the air, etc. This set, in my mind, what it was like on HF and with contesters. Granted, there are good (read as nice) contesters out there. But this set in my head what they were like. Why would I want to talk to anyone on HF if this was the experience? So I do digital. You don’t need to talk to anyone.
WSJT-X relies on timing. The RPi gets the time from the internet, as most things do. We have limited Wi-Fi, meaning no way to get the time. My solution was a GPS dongle. I did what most recommend and purchased a GPS dongle from Amazon. Yes, that GPS dongle. The wide white one made by *insert Chinese company here.* It worked okay at my house. It didn’t work in Michigan. I figured that it need to run for a bit. I left it on all day. I thought maybe it was because I was in a tent. I sat outside with it all day. Nothing. Not a single satellite. The other person with me had the same setup. He had the same experience. To set the time, I had to go into the terminal and set it manually based off my watch. I used a G-Shock that set the time using radio at night. This worked but wasn’t ideal. I was able to make contacts.
There were a lot of people on since it was the weekend of the IARU HF World Championship. The UP is pretty isolated. As a result, the noise floor was low. This drives home another point. Just because you can hear them, doesn’t mean they can hear you. I tried contacting people that had no pile-up with no results. I did make a few contacts. Voice was pretty hard. The best part was hearing everything that happens on HF. I live in the city, meaning my noise floor is pretty high. I could hear DX nets. I could hear DX stations. It was awesome. I couldn’t contact any due to power and antenna limitations.
One thing to take into account when doing a camping trip with your radio. RVs give off a lot of RF noise. Many of the components on RVs are low quality to save money. Not only that but RVs cater to a specific group of people. They typically don’t really care about their RF noise level. This didn’t make HF unusable but did block out some parts of the band. As a reference, I like to use the Georgia beacon for 10 m. Don’t know what the Georgia beacon is? Head to 28.425 MHz and listen. DON’T RESPOND. He has turned 28.425 MHz into his version of 7.200 MHz. He has done something positive for the community. He has established an informal 10 m beacon. Listening in, 10 m was open. The problem is that some days, the RF noise from RVs blocked this frequency. This died down during the week when many of the campers left. Just be aware that RF noise will be a thing at busy campgrounds that allow RVs.
Overall, the trip was alright from an HF stance. Having limited power and low quality equipment did limit what I was able to do. Be aware that you may need some workarounds if you take this equipment. Don’t expect everything to run smoothly.
My plan moving forward is to try a new GPS dongle by GlobalSat. This has been recommended by hams in the club that do fox hunting. If it doesn’t work, I’ll need to research another fox for time. I will need to find a better antenna for portable that can be deployed and is less compromised. I need to also find a way to get 10 W out of the IC-705 without taking along a large external power supply or battery. Once I accomplish all of these, I will try a POTA activation and see how everything goes.
Thank you for reading. Leave any questions in the comments below.
There has been a recent influx of new operators lately, which is a great thing for a diminishing hobby. Earlier this week, new operators were using the local repeater and their calls are in the KD9TXX range. Having new blood on the air is always a great thing. It breaks the monotony of hearing the same people on the repeaters talk about the same thing. The repeaters tend to turn into a “good old boys” club, where new operators are ignored. A new operator will put out his call and get no response. Less than five minutes later, old timer 1 will put out a call to old timer 2 and get an immediate response. While they could have scheduled this before hand, it tends to happen too often to make the assumption they both turned on their radios at the exact time.
Why is this an issue? Put yourself in the new operators shoes. You put you call out on the repeater and no one responds. You do it again and no one responds. This goes on for a bit, say a week. The new operator will get the idea that something is wrong with their equipment or operating style. They hear others talking, but they are not acknowledged themselves. Then, someone finally responds to them. They have no idea what to say. This goes by different names but is commonly referred to as mic fright or mic shy. It puts the new operator in a strange spot, as they are accustom to not hearing a response.
Why do I say this? I was in this position. I put my call out for a week before someone came back to me. I was so nervous and didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what any of the Q calls were. I had my G-Shock set to beep every 10 minutes to remember to sign. I was a mess. This could have easily been solved with mentoring. Once I received my license, I received a phone call from Carl, K9LA, who had received a radiogram congratulating me on receiving my new license. This made me feel welcomed, but this feeling quickly diminished when no one wanted to talk.
Eventually, I got on the air more. I now have an informal sked with another operator in the area on Saturdays. This isn’t planned before hand. We just started talking on Saturdays and here we are. This may not have happened without persistence on my part. Again, put yourself in the shoes of a new operator. My original plan was to get Extra and jump into HF. After a month or so of not having great luck chatting on the repeaters, I was at the point that I was going to give up. This is why I got General so quick. I thought I would have better luck on HF. Nope. Another reason why I prefer FT8.
Clubs should have a way to attract new operators to get on the air. The club could set up new hams with someone who would be willing to mentor them. They could help steer them in the right direction. I’ve made bad purchases, but I also have the means to make bad purchases. This may be why I have 5 HTs with another on the way. Having a mentor would have helped guide me in the right direction. The mentor could also guide the new operator in general operating tips. For example, many new radios are dual VFO. When someone comes on the radio and just says their call, I have no idea what VFO they are on. Was that the 76 repeater or the 94 repeater? What if my radio was in scan? I hear a bunch of new operators do this, because they hear it from the more experienced guys. They know what the repeater disconnect tone is and assume everyone else does. Not to call out a particular crowd, but this tends to be more common among the contest group as they are typically quick with their calls. Ham radio is about communication. It doesn’t help making it more difficult.
While I do YouTube myself (not for ham radio), ham YouTubers can be some of the worst operators with terrible operating habits. They get away with quite a bit due to their pseudo-celebrity status within the community. For example, the new ISS repeater went live some time ago. Once it went live, a YouTuber tried to make a contact using 50 W from their mobile. This is poor operating practice, but if I am a new ham with no mentor, I would think this is acceptable. Logging onto another YouTube channel and hearing him consistently say, “The bands are dead.” may steer me away from HF due to low/no activity. This simply isn’t the case. An unnamed YouTuber put out a video on the lines of “Field Day – The Bands are Dead” or something similar, which is an clickbait title, since the YL and I were making contacts on 10 meters during Field Day.
YouTubers also have a large amount of gear, which is great. I want to see items in use before I spend my money on it. The issue is that they hype up some gear as better than it is. This leads to poor purchases, or purchasing an item that isn’t needed. Imagine buying a DVMega hotspot before you have a digital voice radio. Same with Broadband Hamnet, which isn’t active. This could be solved with my previous point of having a mentor. From all of my years on YouTube and Twitch, I have never had a company refuse to send me something due to a poor review. Dankpods, an audiophile YouTuber, tore apart the Raycon wireless earbuds. Want to guess what happened? Raycon sent him their new and improved pair, which he gave another poor review for. It is okay to give a product an honest review. This leads to more consistency as a reviewer. There are some reviews that hype up really poor quality product, meaning if they say a radio is the greatest radio they’ve ever seen, I know it is absolute trash. This is the consistency from a reviewer.
Lack of Common Sense Radios
I have covered this before, so I’m not going to beat a dead horse. Instead, I’m going to focus on one radio in particular. Baofeng. “But Adam, you hate Baofeng.” You are right. But they sell like crazy. Almost everyone has one. Want to know why? Because I can get one for under $30. No one buys them because of the features as there simply aren’t any. It is cheap and gets you into the hobby (on all band *sarcasm*) for a low price.
What does this say to me? There is a market for inexpensive radios with no features. Yaesu, Icom, someone else… get on this. Not Kenwood. They have their niche, and it works for them.
KENWOOD RANT – If you ask for someone’s favorite radio, you will rarely get a Kenwood, but Kenwood makes kick ass radios with top notch audio. They are amazing. One of my favorite HTs is my Kenwood D74. It is also my most expensive. But it is so good. It has a great interface. The audio is the best I’ve heard from any HT, or any other amateur radio for that fact. It is amazing. More people should give it a try. The problem is they occupy the mid- to high-end. If they started making entry-level radios, it would probably hurt them. If Icom is IT guy and Yaesu is the firefighter, Kenwood is the business executive with two yachts, two houses, three Ferraris, and Warren Buffet on speed dial.
Back to inexpensive radios. The best radio manufacturer to cover this would be Yaesu. Icom is in an odd spot right now. The ID-52A is delayed due to the semiconductor shortage. They only have one HT right now, and it is alright. Their bread and butter falls under the HF market. But Yaesu could make a $40 HT, and it would fit their business model well. Dual-band, FM only, single VFO. Simple and easy. I know there are other radio manufacturers. Alinco could do it. Anytone could. Bridgecom could. But Yaesu is known. Everyone talks about them. That would be the smartest route.
Right now, all of my HTs are flagship models from their respective companies. I would buy an FM only radio from one of the big three Japanese companies if they offered a low cost solution. The lowest price solution is the FT-60, which is $60 on discount. That is double the price of a Baofeng. How can you convince someone to pay double for the same features? We understand that Baofengs are terrible quality, but it is hard convincing anyone of that.
I just needed to stand on my soapbox. As I’m writing this, a new ham is just saying his call repeatedly on the repeaters with no one responding. He is hardly making the repeater. No one is letting him know proper etiquette. Instead, he is going to just spam the repeater with his call until he gets tired. My solution: I’m going to invite him to the picnic this afternoon, so I don’t embarrass him on the air.
Thanks for reading. This was more of a rant that I needed to get out. Also, I got in some new headphones that sound amazing. It is the small victories.
My master’s advisor invited me to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a research assistant. His research site is in the Grand Sable Dunes, just outside of Grand Marais. For those who know the area, it is isolated. Michigan tends to be heavier with AT&T, so we didn’t have cell reception. There was another master’s graduate attending. The three of us had our amateur radio license.
All three of us took different radios. The decision of what radio to take was unique to each of us. I had the largest selection of what radio to take. All repeaters in the area were FM only. They did have Echolink and IRLP, but the primary mode was FM. No YSF. No D-STAR. No DMR. My choices were the Yaesu FT3DR, the Kenwood TH-D74a, the Alinco DJ-G7T, the Anytone AT-D878UV Plus, and my wife’s Yaesu FT-70. I decided to go with the Yaesu FT3DR. I chose this because of the water resistance and familiarity incase I needed to program it. I wasn’t bringing my laptop, so programming any radio would need to be done on the front screen. I programmed in all the local repeaters, including those that were further away than we planned to go. It also has a Diamond SRH77CA high gain antenna. All of my radios have Diamond high gain antennas for the extra push. I like to have my tools sharp.
The other two brought two different radios. The next was a Yaesu FT-60, a solid pick. It is a dual band, single-VFO HT. Attached to it was a Diamond SRH701. This FT-60 suffered from antenna problems last trip, and the antenna broke. He put on a new antenna.
The third radio was chosen due to cost. Do I even need to say what it was? It was a Baofeng. It was ordered through Radioddity, so it shouldn’t have had any of the spurious emissions that were common with the Amazon versions. Either way, you get what you pay for with a $30 radio. This had a stock antenna.
The choice would play into the experience we each had.
The Yaesu FT3DR
This was the best performing radio of the three… obviously. It was also the most expensive of the three. We operated simplex with the Grand Marais repeater as backup. We didn’t want to tie up the repeater with our traffic since it would be short traffic. The typical traffic was letting the others know they had run the measuring tape to the points or simple traffic about the terrain. I used VFO A for simplex and VFO B for the repeater. I didn’t have any issues with either.
I don’t thrash my equipment, but I also don’t baby it. It was clipped to my CamelBak. When we took a break or ate lunch, I would set it down. I would cover the screen when walking through dense tree cover. This made me a little nervous. A hard hit to the screen would take the radio out. Another problem is the sand. Being a dune, there is sand everywhere. It gets in everything and infiltrates everything. Never take anything into the dunes you aren’t willing to get dusty/sandy. This was a concern, but the FT3DR has seals over all the covers. This meant that I couldn’t use an externa speaker mic as it would involve removing a seal and sand infiltration would be an issue.
We were in Michigan for two weeks, from Monday July 5 to Saturday July 17. On Thursday, July 15, the radio would suddenly power off and back on with an impact. I thought this was a battery issue. When I would impact the top of the battery, the radio would power cycle. It didn’t take much. Just a small tap. I removed the battery and cleaned the contacts on the battery and the radio. The terminals were still springing. I reinstalled the battery, and it worked. I took a second battery. It worked. The next day, it didn’t work well. It cleaned the terminals, and it worked well. Not sure why. This battery was also the first that came with the radio. I had it for over a year. It had been used and recharged nearly everyday since I purchased the radio. It might have just been fully cooked.
This was the only issue that I had the entire time. That being said, I was prepared enough and had all of the repeater frequencies programmed. I should have taken my Anytone. Although I don’t like the Anytone, it is probably the most robust of all my radios. I didn’t bring it, because I wasn’t bringing my laptop, and I don’t know how to program it from the front panel. If I would have had more experience with the Anytone, I would have taken it.
The Yaesu FT-60
Another guy took the FT-60 with a Diamond antenna. This is a solid pick. There isn’t much to say. This radio performed well. It is robust enough to handle the abuse of the dunes. When we hit some of the bowls, or low points, in the dunes, I was able to hear him. He was able to hear me and the Baofeng. It was just a solid performer.
I think this was probably the most solid. There wasn’t any worry about it’s performance. If only all of Yaesu’s radios were solid like this…
This was the worst performance of every radio… obviously. It had a stock antenna, which didn’t help out the performance. The biggest issue with this radio was the receive. It struggled to receive my radio. It struggled to receive the FT-60. It was just a poor radio overall. On the last day, we had to split up more than just the 50 meter spacing to the plots. We rounded the corner and started walking down the road. We were maybe 70-80 meters away from him, and he failed to receive either of the other radios. This was flat ground with only trees between us, on VHF simplex. When in a bowl, he couldn’t hear us. I would be standing next to him and receive the FT-60 just fine. About 4 hours after we split up, he switched to his mobile radio in the truck, an FTM-3100R. We were around 700-800 meters into the dunes and in a bowl. I was receiving him at an S9+. He was receiving me at an S6-7. The FT-60 was similar. Much of this was probably the mobile antenna, but it shows the importance of having a good receive.
The reason this radio was brought along was the price. For $30, it is hard to beat, but you get what you pay for. Would I ever trust a Baofeng? No. It is a good SHTF radio? No. It is an alligator. All teeth, no ears.
The Perfect Radio
This is easy. The FT1XDR or the VX-8DR. Something digital. Something water resistant. Something dust resistance. Something with APRS. Something with dual VFOs. Something robust. This is where the FT1XDR or the VX-8DR would come in handy. Unfortunately, Yaesu discontinues all of their solid radios. I’m not saying the FT3DR isn’t solid, but one slip and the screen dies, therefore, the radio dies. There needs to be a no compromise HT. The ID-52 will fill this role, but it didn’t release in time. It also doesn’t do APRS, which I feel is an oversight by Icom. This seems to be the big flaw with Icom. The ID-52 has the advantage of USB charging, which is my personal favorite feature. It is limited since D-STAR isn’t everywhere, but YSF and DMR aren’t everywhere either but are more widely adopted than D-STAR.
This goes back to my article over common sense radio manufacturing. The FT in Yaesu’s model numbers stands for Field Transceiver. Would anyone really take the FTdx101MP into the field? I’m sure someone would. But it seems that the idea of a field transceiver has passed. It would be nice to have a great field transceiver. I keep calling on Yaesu to do it, because they call their radios field transceivers. Icom has stepped up. Kenwood is doing Kenwood things. Kenwood isn’t focused on making portable field transceivers.
That was the trip. There are more details, but the focus here was on the experience with three different HTs in the dunes. I’m glad I had this experience as it reinforced the differences you get with each HT. Each of them serves a different purpose but were put in a situation in which they had to adapt.
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions, send me an email or leave a comment.
I haven’t posted on this site in a bit. I haven’t forgotten about it either. I upgraded to my general license in Oct 2019 and was planning to upgrade to my extra license before the change happened in summer 2020. Unfortunately, COVID hindered that plan. The testing session I planned to attend was cancelled. Once online testing became a thing, the question bank had changed. I also lost motivation through various things. Recently, I decided that I was going to push for extra. I started studying again and tested with GLAARG. I earned my extra by scoring 50/50 on the exam. For anyone debating doing an online exam, I would high recommend GLAARG. Both my wife and I tested through them, and they are a very professional group. Herb, the gentleman conducting the testing, talks you through everything step-by-step. They don’t have any crazy requirements, like needing two webcams or a phone looking down on your testing area. You just need a camera that can move, Zoom, and free time.
I promise I haven’t forgotten about updating this site with articles. I actually have three articles in the works in addition to a report on the Indiana QSO Party. Stand by for those.
My shack has been constantly evolving since I got into ham radio. It originally started as a radio on a deck with coax passing through a laundry room window. It then changed to a radio sitting next to my computer. The coax was still going through the same window. Now, I have a desk and permanent spot for everything. I looked up a lot of shack pictures. They ranged from simple and clean to unorganized and messy. My goal was to have a clean setup without needing to remove any equipment. Right now, I have everything I need on a desk with coax passing through the window next to the desk.
Yes, the cable management is a nightmare. That will be improved over the coming weeks as I get in Velcro straps to organize everything. Same with the coax. I plan to get an MFJ window passthrough but need to plan out routes and cut coax to length. I’ll cover each item and the purpose so you can see how I fit so much in so little space.
Top Left Shelf – HT Shelf
This shelf contains all of my current HTs. From left to right, it is the Kenwood TH-D74, possibly the greatest HT. Next to that is the Alinco DJ-G7T, which is used for satellites and 1.2 GHz. Next is my wife’s Yaesu FT-70DR, one of the best bang-for-buck radios on the market. Finally is my Yaesu FT3DR. All are in quick charging stands. In front of my FT3DR is the Yaesu SSM-BT10, the bluetooth headset for the FT3DR and the biggest waste of money in ham radio. All have aftermarket Diamond antennas. In the picture, the Kenwood has the stock rubber duck but has been changed over to the Diamond SRH320A. This antenna was not featured in my antenna test since it arrived after.
Middle Shelf – Misc Shelf
This is the miscellaneous shelf. It contains some odds and ends. In the back is my DVMega Pi-Star hotspot. Yes, it also has a Diamond antenna. I don’t know the full range but plan to test it soon. I was able to get a response from about 1/2 mile away using a 25 W mobile radio. Originally, it was on the first floor next to my WiFi hotspot but has moved up since completing my shack. I have it running off an LG USB cable plugged into the surge protector. Next to it is a Linksys WRT54GL router used for Broadband Hamnet. The firmware has been flashed. I swapped the antennas for two high gain 7dBi Linksys antennas. I have another node downstairs plugged into my WiFi router so this is internet connected. Like most cities, I am the only router. The club has a half dozen of these ready to go but only use them for Field Day. I talked to the club, and there is no plan to expand add hotspots, which is a shame. I will keep mine running anyway. In the front is my Hamshack Hotline phone. It is a free service for hams that connects an IP phone to a network so you can call other hams. My number is 5513. If you dial 5513, this phone rings. It is running off WiFi but can be plugged into the Broadband Hamnet router.
This only has my R&L Electronics RLPS30M, which is a garbage power supply. I should have purchased an MFJ or anything else besides this. It works but causes problems. It is also loud. When everything was next to my gaming computer, it was louder than my gaming PC with ten fans. It was $50, which is about $20 more than it is worth.
On this shelf is my Vibroplex bug. I was debating what kind of key to get. I liked bugs and was kind of set on getting one. As a watch collector, I had the ultimate debate. Do I buy vintage and inherit the history or do I buy new and establish that history? I purchased a new one, which is okay. The brass plates are not as good of quality as the vintage designs. The mechanical parts are superior with a ruby used as a bearing. As long as it is cared for, this should outlast me. Since then, I have purchased a vintage key and plan to restore it. I picked up the vintage bug at a hamfest. I’ve always wanted a key manufactured on Broadway in NYC. Next to my key is my laptop. It is an HP. It works great and was under $600. The only issue I have is I wish they had a non-touchscreen model that had a little more processor. Other than that, it is amazing. I use it for digital modes and and web browsing. Behind that is my X1C5 APRS iGate. It is a Chinese 1 W portable iGate that I have connected to a roll up j-pole antenna. It is plugged in using USB mini to my power supply. It is setup as send and receive, but the location of my house, height of the antenna, and low power reduces its range to the neighborhood. On the right side it my Yaesu FT-991A. This is a good radio, not amazing. It does what I need it to do. I just with it had full duplex on VHF/UHF for satellites. I use the Yaesu MH-31 handmic, which is the non-DTMF version. The DTMF version is terrible quality, so I stopped using it. When working DX or if it is noisy in the neighborhood, I use the Heil Sound Pro 7, which are okay. They are overpriced, and I would not recommend them at all. I use the DX Engineering yellow foot switch, which it great. It is the only foot switch I’ve used but would replace it with the same model if anything happened to it.
For my antennas, I use a Diamond X50A vertical at 35 ft for VHF/UHF. It works well. I have no complaints. It is the biggest single section antenna that Diamond makes. For HF, I use the MyAntenna EFHW-4010K, which can support up to 1 kW of power. I run 100 W so I get nowhere near the maximum capacity for it. For coax, I use DX Engineering LMR-400MAX for VHF/UHF and MyAntenna RG8X for HF. I plan to replace the RG8X with DX Engineering RG-8/U.
That is a quick tour of my shack. Nothing impressive. There will be changes in the future. I will post updates when that happens. Thank you for reading. If you have any suggestions of what to add, leave a comment or let me know on social media.
Anyone that has seen this blog knows that I spend a fair amount of time on Reddit. It is a love/hate relationship. It is a great place for information but can also contain some of the dumbest people. I have this same love/hate relationship with r/AmateurRadio. Many of the posts are about new licenses, even though there is a sticky at the top for people who got their licenses. It also has some of the best copypasta available. I’m sure this guy actually believes there are knock off Baofengs (pronounced bow-fung), and he wanted the world to know. Also, I’m still looking for the HT that costs a grand or more. I mean a Baofeng could be more than a grand if you buy a bunch of them. Or you could get two Kenwood TH-D74s. Or three Yaesu FT3DRs. Or four Alinco DG-G7Ts.
Anyways, a month ago, someone posted a picture where someone had a stupidly massive antenna on a radio. It was obviously intended to be a shitpost, but someone in the comments asked if rubber ducks from various companies were the similar in performance. I thought this was an amazing question. I was genuinely interested in this question. Rubber ducks are widely used by quite a few operators. Looking at them from the outside, they share common characteristics. Most tend the be short, black, and covered with an outer rubber coating. While the exterior is similar, the interior parts may be different. Are there differences in the manufacturing processes behind rubber duck antennas enough to make a major performance difference? In addition, I replace all of my antennas with a Diamond Antenna. Am I wasting my money? Are the rubber ducks good enough? As a scientist, I wanted to answer these questions using as exact of a science as I could do, given the conditions.
The goal of this experiment was to answer two questions. Do stock rubber duck antennas from different companies have similar performance? Is there increased performance upgrading to an aftermarket high gain antenna?
Materials and Methods
Be aware that this is as close to controlled as I could get it. There is some small variability, but not enough to influence the results of the test. This test was also done in a nature preserve close to my house, so the results may vary based off your terrain and other conditions.
I chose to head out to Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve. I picked this area since it is flat and there are few obstructions. There is a long path that I could use to separate the radios. It is outside of the city so there wouldn’t be much bounce from buildings. There was a slight amount of vegetation in the way, but it was minimal. There are a few building along the side of the trail but didn’t get in the way of line of sight. My wife stood at the trailhead (right side of measure line) while I went to the end of the trail (left side of measure line). The distance between us was 1.33 mi/2.14 km.
For this, we used out Yaesu HTs. She used a Yaesu FT-70DR with a Diamond SHH77CA as her antenna. She ran the radio on high power (5 W). I used my Yaesu FT3DR running at Low1 power (0.5 W). My antenna changed during this test as this was the test variable. We were on the 70 cm National Yaesu System Fusion Calling Frequency (446.175 MHz) using C4FM in DN mode. Digital was used so the only part of the signal report we would have is the S meter. I understand that S numbers can change from brand to brand, but I was able to justify this by using only one radio on each end. I could repeat this test with other brands but would need to use FM. Digital modes are also not as prone to interference as analog FM. DG-ID was set to 00 and no DCS was used.
I used every HT antenna I owned or could borrow, excluding my yagi. Antennas tested included a Nagoya NA-771, a Nagoya NA 810, two Yaesu rubber duck antennas which appear identical (from the FT-70DR and FT3DR), an Alinco rubber duck (from an Alinco DJ-G7T), a Kenwood rubber duck (from a Kenwood TH-D74), a Diamond SRH77CA, a Diamond SRHF10, a Diamond SRH815S, and a Baofeng rubber duck (from a Baofeng GT3TP). The Baofeng rubber duck is a Sainsonic INF-641. Since the FT3DR uses SMA Male antennas and the Baofeng uses SMA Female, an adapter was used for all antennas. This was so all antennas had to pass through an adapter and not just the Nagoya NA 810 and the Sainsonic INF-641. I didn’t have SMA Male to Female adapters and SMA Male to Male adapters, so I got a little creative. I used an SMA Male to PL-259. On the end of that, I used an SO-239 to SMA Male or Female, depending on the antenna. It is pictured below. I think the amateur radio community calls this DIY. I call it janky. All adapters were made by the same company to eliminate variability.
Once I was at my location, I called to my wife. She would confirm we had made contact. We said the same thing each time to ensure the conversation was long enough to see changes in the S meter. The conversations is as follows.
Me: KD9ODP, this is KD9NRT using (Antenna).
Her: KD9NRT, this is KD9ODP. I copy you at an S#.
Me: Copy S#. I have you at an S#.
Her: I copied a S#.
Me: QSL. Changing antennas.
This game enough time for us to see the S meter. She recorded all of the numbers. All SMA Male antennas were measured first before changing adapters to measure the two SMA Female antennas.
Model numbers and performance of each antenna. Received report is what KD9ODP heard from KD9NRT (me) using 0.5 W. Sent report is what KD9NRT (me) heard from KD9ODP using 5 W. RD stands for rubber duck. Links are provided for Siansonic and all aftermarket antennas.
All of the rubber duck antennas had similar performance with the exception of the Yaesu rubber ducks. The Yaesu radios averaged one S unit lower than the Alinco, Kenwood, and Siansonic (Baofeng). The Yaesu rubber ducks had S9 receive while the Siansonic and Kenwood has S8.The two short “ham fest” style antennas had similar send performance at S2, but the Diamond had better receive performance at S5 vs S4 for the Nagoya. The Alinco rubber duck, the Diamond SRH915S, and SRH77CA had the best receive performance at S9+.
I will answer each of the questions proposed at the beginning. Do stock rubber duck antennas from different companies have similar performance? The answer to this is No. Yaesu seems to have the poorest send performance and even some variability among their antennas. I did indicate that both antennas appear similar. This doesn’t mean the interior components, the manufacturing process, or source of the antenna are the same. I’m not entirely sure how Yaesu sources their antennas, so I can’t comment on that. Since they appear identical, I’m not sure which is from the FT3DR and which is from the FT-70DR. The Alinco did surprise me. While it had okay send performance, S9+ for receive is promising. The Kenwood performed middle of the road. S5 send and S8 receive aren’t bad numbers but aren’t anything to be excited about. The stock Baofeng antenna, the Siansonic, performed well. It had identical numbers to the Kenwood, meaning that while Baofengs are not the best radios, their antennas are alright. I wasn’t expecting the results that I got. The Kenwood antenna came off a TH-D74, which is a $500+ radio. At this price point, there is no competition so why not just use a better antenna? They could have just used the Alinco antenna and had it branded as a Kenwood.
I’ll answer the second question. Is there increased performance upgrading to an aftermarket high gain antenna? The answer is maybe. The Diamond SRHF10 and Nagoya NA-810 are not intended or sold as high gain antennas but rather as “ham fest” antennas. They are about the size of your thumb. These are intended for ham fests that have talk in repeaters within the building or short ranged simplex operation. They accomplish two things. They reduce signal strength so you signal isn’t blasted everywhere, and they save size so you aren’t lugging around a large high gain antenna. The performance of these two was lower than the rubber duck antennas in both send and receive. This makes them perfect antennas for hot spots or ham fests.
Continuing the second question, the Nagoya NA-771 performed really well. Nagoya is the most common replacement antenna for Baofengs, except for the tacticool, preppers that use the Abbree foldable whip antenna. Looking at it objectively, you could increase the performance of a Baofeng for $30, which is double the cost of the radio. This starts to put you in range of getting an entry level radio from Bridgecom, Alinco, and Yaesu. It begs another question. Is it better to have a low quality radio with a high quality antenna or a high quality radio with a rubber duck antenna? Maybe a question for a future day.
Continuing on, I replaced all of my Yaesu rubber ducks with a Diamond SRH77CA. This was worth the upgrade. The Diamond SRH77CA was the best performing antenna in send and receive, though we ran out of S units for receive. I also replaced my Alinco DJ-G7T rubber duck with a Diamond SRH815S. This showed no increase in performance. This was really odd to me. I will throw in a future question. The Alinco is tri-band for 2 m/ 70 cm/ 23 cm. Would the antenna perform better than the rubber duck on those other frequencies? Unfortunately, I don’t own another radio with 23 cm compatibility to test this out.
Anyone that has seen this blog knows that I’m not a fan of Baofengs. I don’t dislike them because of their price. I dislike them because of their performance. In amateur radio, we are required to use equipment that complies with FCC regulation. The ARRL wrote an article about this in the January 2020 edition of QST magazine. ARRL members can access it online though this blog post from Walter Underwood has the results table from the article. But lets say you don’t care and want to use a Baofeng anyway. As I’ve stated before, cost is a major factor in the appeal behind Baofengs. As a ham saves up some money, they could improve the quality of their send and receive using a Nagoya.
Yaesu needs to step up their rubber duck game. Their send performance was pretty sad. Getting a better antenna bring a Yaesu radio alive. This is something I’ve written about before. Yaesu radios are great except they always seem to have a caveat. “The Yaesu FT3DR is a great radio but…” There is always the “but” part. Now, add antenna to that list. The Yaesu FT3DR is a great radio, but the antenna is mediocre. Alinco is doing well with their rubber ducks. If I knew about the performance, I probably wouldn’t have changed out the antenna. Just as a side note, to run this test, I actually had to remove the Alinco rubber duck from the plastic wrapping it came in. I have only used with the Diamond antenna.
Another thing is that good send and good receive performance aren’t linked. The Yaesu rubber ducks suck at sending but are good at receive performance. Same with the Alinco rubber duck and the Diamond SRH815S. The Nagoya NA-771 was a bit of an alligator (strong send but weak receive). The receive performance was S9, but I honestly expected S9+.
Diamond makes some high quality antennas. I only own Diamond antennas outside of the rubber ducks. I would love to compare the performance of Diamond to the other antenna titan, Comet. Unfortunately, I don’t own any.
Moving forward, I see ways I could improve this. Ideally, I would have more antennas and more radios using more bands. The downside is that more radios with more bands adds more variability. Maybe a Baofeng with a Nagoya vs a Yaesu with a Nagoya. Or the Alinco rubber duck vs the Diamond of 1.2 GHz. These are future things I may attempt. It was really hot today with no cloud coverage and only a slight breeze. There is only so long I could tolerate being out in the heat. I plan to repeat this in the future once I can borrow more antennas.
I wanted this test to be real world. I could have performed this test using in “lab” conditions my taking precise measurements, but we don’t live in a lab. In addition to having to cover a distance, we have to contend with trees and buildings. This doesn’t change the performance of the antenna but changes how the other station hears you. This is what I was trying to replicate with this experiment. This is a best case scenario for real world, which I understand.
The purpose is to change the methods to improve the quality of the experiment. The original method was going to be to walk away from my wife’s location and see how far I could go before she lost signal with the various antennas. This flaw was quickly seen when the Diamond still had S7 at the distance of the trail. I could have maybe move a few more meters away but not enough to significantly impact the performance of the high gain antennas. It was long enough to impact the performance of the “ham fest” antennas. I think I got the results I wanted.
Thank you for reading. Also, thank you to the guy on Reddit for posing this question. I don’t remember who you are, but your questions lead to an hour of fun. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below or send me an email. If you have an antenna you want tested, contact me and I will try to find one. Thank you again.
This post will be quick. I just wanted to highlight something new that I just learned about Pi-Star hotspots. This is specific for those running the Pi-Star software. I was trying to show my wife digital voice radio using Yaesu System Fusion. I set the Pi-Star to the Parrot, which is a private room for testing BER and voice quality. Think of it as a self radio check room so you don’t have to do a radio check in a populated room.
I wanted to show her how it worked. I told her to just hit PTT, wait 1/2 second, give her call, wait again, and release the PTT. She did that and nothing. I did it with my radio and heard my voice come back. This was really odd. With myself tuned to the frequency, I keyed up again and she heard me directly, as the hotspot is on simplex, and then she heard the Parrot repeat my call. She was hearing it. She tried again. I could hear her through my radio, but the hotspot wasn’t receiving her signal. This happened before with me because the programming software tries to set an offset. I checked. No offset. I pulled up the hotspot config menu. There was a setting I remember seeing earlier in the day that I figured I would try. Before that, I had her transmit again. She didn’t show up on the station list that appears on the landing page. I checked one setting.
Highlighted above in the red box is the Node Type. I’ve always had it set to private since it was in my house, running on 10 mW of power. I switched this to public. She keyed up and tried again. The Parrot repeated everything back.
My best guess as to what happened was the node was programmed to my callsign. My radio also contains my callsign. The hotspot hears a transmission but won’t accept it if the callsign of the radio doesn’t match the callsign of the hotspot when Node Type is set to Private.
If you have a Pi-Star hotspot and wish for others to use it, switch the Node Type to Public. This will ensure that everyone can use it. This isn’t intended for long distance communication, but you may have guests at your house or use the hotspot at events, like a club meeting or hamfest. For me, my wife has her license with her radio, programmed with her callsign. If you plan to have others use your hotspot, set Node Type to Public.
Thank you for reading. I know this was short, but a simple post could solve an easy issue. This is the type of posts I intended for this blog. Leave a comment with any questions. Follow on social media for the latest news. Thank you again. 73.
As you know, I love digital radio. I acknowledge my bias but that doesn’t mean that I’m blind to the realities. Watch any YouTube channel and they will say, “It sounds like you are right next to me.” While I’m on System Fusion and most of the rooms are cross linked with DMR, I have not heard a voice that sounds like they are right next to me. There is always that digital compression. So why use digital voice? Because it isn’t about the voice. It is about all the other information that is passed along when using voice.
There are DMR, D-Star, and YSF repeaters. Personally, I use the local YSF repeater. Why? Because both my wife and I have Yaesu radios. Have we ever used digital? Every so often. The problem with digital repeaters is the problem with analog repeaters. They are quiet. When I use the YSF repeater, I get no response in digital mode. “Well that may be because not everyone has a Fusion radio.” So why do I also get no response when using analog FM on the same repeater? On top of that, there is no other incentive to use the YSF repeater. It does analog FM and C4FM. That is it. No IRLP. No Echolink. It isn’t even on the internet for WIRES-X. This means that it is another local repeater that goes silent. There are 3 repeaters in town that are primarily used. Don’t get me wrong. I tried. I would monitor the YSF repeater. I would answer any call and put my call out when I was listening, but I didn’t get any response. So not, I monitor the other active repeaters. I didn’t get into radio to listen. I want to learn, and learning means communicating with those that have more experience. One operator said on the repeater a few days ago, “This is the best time to be a ham. I remember the old radios I used in the 60s and 70s. They were terrible. You had to have so much stuff to make it work and even more to keep it working. It was constant maintenance. The new radios are the greatest things made.” While I agree with that 99%, it doesn’t help if the new features in radio are never used.
Early, I said the point of digital voice isn’t the voice, it is the extra information that is passed along. How many times have you talked to someone and forgot a call sign? How many times have you blanked on a name? All of this can be transmitted with digital voice. When I talk, you can hear my voice along with an on-screen text reading my name and call. It will appear as “KD9NRT – ADAM.”
In addition to broadcasting callsign, you can also opt to have your position reported. This can either be reported to those within the group or to APRS.fi, provided the repeater/node is connected to the internet. This is helpful when coordinating an event, reporting a problem, declaring an emergency, or updating someone on your location. I usually have this option enabled by default, though you do need a GPS for this to work. While I use this with my FT3DR and FTM-400XDR, it cannot be used on my FT-991a or my wife’s FT-70DR. There is the option to plug my FT3DR into my FT-991a and leverage that GPS or add on an external GPS. Personally, I use the FT3DR. I say this knowing that I almost never use this function as there isn’t anyone else in my area that uses it. I have tested it using an openSpot 3 node and it works well.
There is also the option to drop this extra data completely and use the entire bandwidth for voice. This gives you better voice quality. This is useful in situations where the extra data isn’t needed. I’m a regular member on the AMSAT node. I could drop the extra data for improved voice quality. While I don’t do this, it isn’t because I don’t want the other users to enjoy the sweet melody of my voice. It does present problems I’ll explain later.
Wide voice is also useful in situations where it is difficult to hear/be heard. Let’s say you are working another station on simplex and that other station is in a car. Using wide voice may be helpful to overcome some of the road noise. Wide voice is also helpful for those new to digital voice. Digital voice has the standard voice compression sound. This is done to save bandwidth. If you want to hear this, listen to any DMR radio. DMR has the poorest sound and it is obvious what the compressed voice sounds like. It does take some time to get used to this. When I first started with digital voice, I struggled to understand other users, especially those with DMR, poorly setup hotspots, poor internet connections, or all the above. Wide voice can help with some of these.
DMR is the lowest cost digital mode. It is open source, meaning that the code is available to everyone. This means that nearly all the lower end radio manufacturers can implement DMR into their radio. This is why you see it in a lot of the Chinese brands but not in the major Japanese brands. Popular DMR radios are made by Anytone, Alinco, and Bridgecom. I have personal experience with Alinco, though I rarely use DMR. A DMR radio can be purchased for around $150, which is appealing for anyone who wants to get into digital voice. Remember when I talked about why I don’t like Baofeng radios. The major appeal is the low cost. The same goes for DMR. Most of the time, digital voice means DMR. That doesn’t mean it is bad. It offers digital voice for a low price. I said low cost, not low quality. I always distinguish between cheap and inexpensive. Cheap means lower quality. Inexpensive means an affordable option. DMR is inexpensive, yet it does lack some of the features the other modes have.
How does DMR work? This is where it gets complicated. Rather than dividing up the bandwidth, it divides up the timing. That sounds odd. Let’s say you are transmitting for 30 seconds on DMR. You are only sending for 15 seconds, even though 30 seconds has passed on the clock. DMR transmits for 30 ms and off for 30 ms. These are referred to as time slots. We will use the following picture.
The guy on the left in the black shirt wants to talk to the guy on the right in the blue shirt. Left guy is on time slot 1. He will transmit. Right guy is also on time slot 1, meaning he can hear left guy. They have a conversation about the weather, since that is pretty much all ham radio operators talk about. While they are talking, the radio switches from transmit to stand-by every 30 ms. It is so fast that it is difficult to notice. This leaves time slot 2 open for another conversation to happen. DMR allows for two conversations at once. This is really oversimplified. There are also color codes and a bunch of other stuff that makes DMR complicated. DMR is more difficult to setup. The appeal is the price, not the ease of use.
IMPORTANT: In order to use DMR, you must sign up for a DMR ID at this link. You will need an official copy of your license, not the reference copy. Everyone should apply for this, even if you are not going to use DMR. Let me repeat that. If you plan to use Fusion or D-Star, register for a DMR ID. I understand that you may never use DMR. However, there are crosslinked nodes, like the AMSAT node I use, that is Fusion linked with DMR. The DMR users will never hear you if you don’t register. When I first started using the AMSAT node, I could only reach two guys. They were the two Fusion guys. The others couldn’t hear me. I registered my DMR ID and everyone can hear me. You will also need to save the email you get from your registration. The DMR system doesn’t see your callsign, it sees your ID. It links your ID to your callsign. When you setup your radio, you will need to put in your ID.
DMR also has another issue. It cannot use Wide Voice. If you have Wide Voice enabled on your radio, your signal will cut in and out for nodes linked to DMR. Be aware of this. It is best to just leave your radio in standard digital mode and only use wide voice when in simplex with other uses that can use wide voice. Back to the AMSAT node. The DMR users, most of them, have me cut in and out if I use wide voice. It is a common complaint for America Link as well. Many of the America Link users have DMR radios and configure their hotspots to crosslink for them. Wide Voice gives them issues. This is something to be aware of.
I’m going to be honest. I’m not a fan of digital node hotspots. At the same time, I love what they have provided. So why the love/hate? Because they work okay but not great. Let’s start with the negative so I can end on a positive note.
Most users have no idea how to setup a hotspot. Setting up a hotspot in more than just plugging it in and putting in your call and location. To avoid conjestion/interference, you need to search APRS.fi to look for other nearby hotspots and their frequency and set your hotspot accordingly. You don’t want overlapping frequencies. The purpose of a personal node isn’t to have a mesh network with your neighbors, though this would be cool. It does bear note that if a community is thinking of setting up a mesh network using hotspots, a proper repeater would be better. In a mesh network, the individual radios would need to be strong enough to control all of the hotspots at once. There is also the chance of interference and other issues. It is best not to do it. It is okay to run multiple hotspots in one house, just ensure they are set to different frequencies. I do this with my Pi-Star and my openSpot 3. The newest nodes with the newest software can handle multiple modes on one hotspot.
Another issue is bit error rate. Even though your radio says it is set to 438.800 MHz doesn’t mean the exact frequency is 438.800 MHz. There is a small amount of error. This is corrected in the menus. Switch your channel to Parrot, which just repeats your voice so you don’t need to constantly do radio checks in busy rooms. Find you bit error rate, sometimes labeled as BER, and transmit for around 5 seconds. It will give you a percent. The goal is to have this under 2% though under 5% is fine. Ideally, it should be under 0.5%. My Pi-Star gives me 0.1%. You have to adjust your offset slightly. There is a great YouTube video by W1MSG. This explains how to setup the offset. For me, it took around 15 minutes to get it dialed in. Again, the newest hotspots with the newest software can do this automatically. My FT-991a, FT3DR, FTM-400XDR, and my wife’s FT-70DR all have different offsets. This gives different BER each time. Updating to the newest software that adjusts this automatically has helped out since we get the same quality each time. This is how I have a BER of 0.1% each time.
Not all hotspots are created equal. Rugged Spot, for example, has a great case and a screen but also advertise/sell using counterfeit Diamond antennas. I’m not sure how you can call yourself the Rolls Royce of hotspots when you sell counterfeit items. Last I checked, Rolls Royce doesn’t come with laminate wood or imitation leather. Other hotspots come in beautiful machined aluminum cases. Some are compatible with Pi Zero or Pi 3/4. Some work with all of them. You can also custom build your own. You can purchase the MMDVM hat, the Raspberry Pi (or other compatible board), case, and antenna all separate. I personally use the DVMega hotspot, which isn’t bad. I think it provides everything I need. It doesn’t have a screen, which isn’t a deal breaker for me since I interface with it through my radio. It is held back by the software, though Pi-Star v4 fixed many of the issues I had. I would not have recommended a Pi-Star hotspot until software v4 came out. Now, I would recommend it to anyone. Just don’t use Rugged Spot’s counterfeit antennas.
Side Note: I want to explain some of my grief toward Rugged Spot for their antennas. I like their hotspots and debated getting one, though I think they are slightly overpriced. You can purchase the fake antenna for $20 and the real one for $27 through DX Engineering. There is also another short antenna from Diamond for $22. I personally use the $22 antenna and it works well. I get coverage of my hotspot for about a city block, which is far more than I need. It covers my property, which is primarily what I need. I can also access my hotspot from my FTM-400XDR when my car is parked in my garage. It is only $7 more for the real antenna, only $2 if you want a different version. Please don’t support the counterfeit industry. Spend the extra $2.
Some positives. The openSpot 3 is the Rolls Royce of hotspots. Actually, Rolls Royce is about style and luxury. The openSpot 3 is a Lamborghini. It it small, portable, versatile, and looks pretty cool. It also has an integrated antenna, meaning if you don’t want people to see it, you can hide it away. I walk around with it in my pocket all the time. Having a built in antenna may limit the range, but I haven’t tested it. I might do that this week. I usually use my hotspot around the house so range isn’t a big issue for me. I just need to to work at my garage, which is the furthest point from it.
The customization of hotspots is incredible. I’ll break that into two categories, the software and the hardware. I’ll cover the hardware first. For some people, they have their callsign everywhere. You can get your callsign engraved on a hotspot. You can get your case made from wood, plastic, or metal. You can pick the wood type and stain it anyway you want. You can get different colors of plastic. You can get plastic that screws together or stacked layers. The metal can come in different colors and styles. It is pretty much open to how you want to customize it. That is the nice part about it. Same with the antenna. If you have a signal story house, you can get an antenna that covers just your house. Same for a multi-story house. I have my hotspot on the first floor next to my WiFi router and use the flexible $22 Diamond antenna I linked above. I guess I can link it again. There you go. I’ve also used a high gain Diamond antenna that I had sitting around. It probably had better range but it is hard to tell. I didn’t test it, which I should. Hotspots are so low power (10 mW) that it is tough to extend the range. They use less power than WiFi routers. You can also have dual-band hotspots that run either 2m or 70 cm. You can have duplex routers that function like repeaters, though you need two antennas.
For software, the most popular is Pi-Star, which was trash until v4 released. It is now more stable and offers more features. I would highly recommend v4. The openSpot uses its own software, which is easier to use than the Pi-Star but offers the same features. The openSpot in a lot more plug-and-play. The setup is extremely simple. There is less restarting and confusion. You really need a guide to help set everything up, which there are plenty of online. In the software, you have plenty of options. You can set the hotspot frequency. Check your nearby area and your repeater council for the frequency that you should use. The low power digital hotspots are close to the satellite frequencies so avoid those since it will interfere with their operation. The option exists to put the hotspot on an APRS map, which I suggest you do so others can see what frequency you are on and adjust their hotspot accordingly. You can also add information about your hotspot. I have power setting, antenna height, the model, and my website. You don’t have to add any information at all, in which case it will just show the set frequency and offset for duplex/repeater mode. There is also the option to push out APRS info for transmitting radios. I also have this option on, though the only radio it would be useful for would be my FT3DR, since I sometime walk around the neighborhood with it. This is also useful if you use your hotspot mobile, i.e. in a vehicle. You can set it to your phone’s WiFi and have a portable node. With this, you will probably want to disable your APRS for the hotspot as it will display your set location rather than your current location.
Side note: I have attempted to standardize all of my APRS information. I use the format (Model) | Power XX W | HAAT XX ft | http://www.kd9nrt.com for everything. HAAT is only used on stationary objects like my hotspots and iGate. For my FT3DR and FTM-400XDR, I just skip that. This makes everything standardized for me so the relevant information is present.
The last positive is the ability to connect to any room your choose. For example, my local repeater is connected to the local node. This is so you can talk back here, even if you are traveling. My wife likes to participate in a YL net. Rather than asking if the repeater is busy, asking to switch the node, switching the node, doing the net, and switching it back to local, all she has to do is switch our hotspot. She doesn’t need ask if it is busy, since we are the only two that use it. She doesn’t need to ask to switch the node, since we are the only two here. She doesn’t need to worry about time, since no one else is waiting to use it. She doesn’t need to worry about switching it back, since I can easily switch it to another room when I use it. This can, however, cause individuals to discontinue use a digital repeater, but there are still a fair number of operators that use the repeaters as the hotspots are not cheap. For the bare minimum, you are looking at around $100 without a case and assuming you have a spare antenna. That may not seem like a lot considering the cost that ham radio can be, but it may be quite a bit for just digital voice in your house. Think of it like if voice only Discord, Teamspeak, or Skype was $100. For some, this is too much for very little. So what do you get for the money? Convenience. Once it is said and done, you have a digital node in your house. Not just a digital node, your digital node. In my area, we don’t have a WIRES-X repeater. My hotspot allows me to connect to WIRES-X.
This is not a rally to get everyone onboard with a hotspot, even though most of this post is about hotspots. This is more of the use of digital voice. How can this help everyone? It provides a mode of communication that is superior to analog voice through the application of data. I’ll use Skywarn as an example. You are leading a Skywarn net due to severe weather. Everyone uses digital voice with location services. The net control operator is doing check-ins. My transmission is as follows. “This is KD9NRT, Adam, located near Foster Park on the southern part of Fort Wayne near the intersection of Fairfield and Rudisill.” My broadcast could be, “This is KD9NRT, Adam, located near Foster Park.” I would show up on his radio with my callsign, name, and location. If he forgets, the information will be displayed again the next time I broadcast. He can also set his radio to hang the information for 5 seconds after I stop broadcasting. It will also show my distance and azimuth from his location (5.2 mi 102°). You can see how this simplifies everything. It does provide extra information, but it doesn’t have to be used. It is nice to have it and not need it than to not have it and need it.
Digital voice isn’t for everyone. Nor do I expect everyone to jump onboard. Like with everything, it is another tool in your toolbox. The nice part is that is just works. There isn’t much fuss to get it setup. Okay, there is a little with DMR. Overall, it is a nice mode to use. I have enjoyed it. I saved the biggest positive for this part. You can find the people you want to talk to. I know ham radio is about making contacts, but sometimes, you just need information. When I first got into satellites, I didn’t know how to work linear satellites. I connect to the AMSAT node, and there were plenty of people to help me out. It was great having that available. As I’ve said in previous posts, it can be difficult to find information. It is almost expected that you find an elmer to mentor you. Depending on where you are, this can be tough. Having digital radio puts every elmer a PTT button away. This is invaluable, especially for a new operation like myself.
Thank you for reading. It has been a few weeks since my last post, but this one took a bit. I’m currently writing about my fox hunt from last weekend. My wife and I were the fox, so this took a bit of preparation. It was fun, and I plan to post about it.
Follow on social media to stay up to date on everything. You can find me on YSF Node #11689 which is the US Amsat node. This is crosslinked to DMR talk group 98006. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
Although the traffic to this blog is relatively low, I do want to post regularly. As with any social media platform, one way to gain traffic is to keep a regular schedule. My plan was to have a new blog every Sunday. This was easy since Sunday is a slow day for me. I am not religious so I don’t attend church. I spend the day mostly working on odds and ends around the house. Lately, I’ve been working on organizing everything for a remodel to our house.
I haven’t been active with amateur radio. I’ve become burnt out. Burnout is common with many hobbies. What was the build up to this burnout? It was lack of progress along with general frustration. I have been fairly consistent at making contacts. I know where to hunt easy contacts with POTA/SOTA, FT8, DX Watch, etc. Although these are easy, I have failed to make contacts with them for a streak of a few days. This is rare with FT8. I know there are FT8 elitists, i.e. FT8 users that will only make a contact if you contact them first. I usually try to contact other operators since I feel it is good practice. I see a CQ so why not make this person’s day by giving them a contact. I haven’t been able to contact anyone. In addition, when I tune to frequencies for POTA/SOTA contacts, I don’t hear much. I understand that many use QRP so hearing them is difficult, but I usually get at least one.
I have been getting an insane amount of interference. It is on all band, even 2 m and 70 cm, though not as bad on 70 cm. It makes using the repeaters near impossible. A quick post on Reddit and everyone had the solution. Everything from plasma TVs to dryers. The QRM is random. It just shows up. It can last all day or for a few seconds. I did the typical thing and shut everything off in the house, including the breakers, and I was still getting it. I haven’t tried putting the radio on a battery since I haven’t received my battery yet. I ordered a complete battery/solar setup from Bioenno, but they are shut down due to coronavirus. I’m not upset at this. Their safety is more important than my battery. When I get it in, I plan on testing it. I don’t receive this interference when I take my radio outside for satellite work. This helps me narrow it down.
First, it could be the neighbors. Since we are all working from home, it is possible that the neighbor has a plasma TV. Since I live in the current times, I don’t have a plasma TV. She might since she probably doesn’t care about image quality or having up to date technology. The interference could be coming from her. I have no way to tell so I’m going to say it isn’t. I live in the city so it could be coming from anywhere. I have power lines on two sides on my property (I live on a corner). I also have power and telephone lines going through my back yard. My house is a nightmare for height. The main reason I don’t have a higher antenna for HF is because of all the overhead obstructions I have. I can’t use guy wires since they would make contact with some utility wire.
Second, my house is old. Like really old. It was built in 1919. The wiring was done half ass. Most of the wires aren’t color coded (red/green). They are just brown wires. Most of the outlets in the house are not grounded, which is why we have so many surge protectors. The interference could be coming from the lack of grounding on the outlet, which is why I don’t get it on my outside outlet as it is grounded. I plan on moving my station into the neighboring room once it is remodeled. This might fix it, or might now. I am assuming since the room is nearby that the outlet isn’t grounded.
Third, it could be the power supply. I have a $50 power supply. Why? It was what I was sold at the Fort Wayne Hamfest. It is a low cost power supply. The manual was super basic. I can’t find the brand online, suggesting it is a white label. White labels are objects that are built, usually in China, that have no branding. Another company will come in and put their label on it and sell it. All of the development is done by the manufacturer rather than the label brand. For example, if you look up “solar panel for phones’ on Amazon, there are so many brands, yet all of the products look the same. This is a white label. Since I’m a watch collector, a common brand that does this is MVMT. They buy white label watches at less than $10 and sell them for $200. I think this is the same thing that happened with my power supply. It has nearly not features on it like a typical higher end power supply. It is also a switching power supply, so it doesn’t handle interference well.
*Side Note: This company should have been able to judge its customer quickly. I was purchasing an FT-991a. I had an FT3DR on my belt. Why did you sell me a $50 power supply? I spent close to $2000 in 3 hours. I’m not saying he should have taken advantage of me, but he should have at least sold me a power supply that would have been closer in quality to the radio I was buying.
Another thing that frustrated me with amateur radio is the noise on the internet. I know. I am posting a blog on the internet but hear me out. There are a lot of voices on YouTube that are loud. They overshadow the good voices that post less frequently. For example, OH8STN has good videos. While I’m not a prepper, I enjoy his channel as it shows what you can do with radios. He pushed his FT-891 past what it was intended for. He also calls it like he sees it. He isn’t afraid to shine light on the loud, bad voices of YouTube. He dubs them “the haters,” a term that I can agree with. For example, it sounds as if he will be getting the Icom IC-705 when it releases. One guy in the comments started whining that it didn’t have an antenna tuner. His solution is a resonate antenna. I agree that having an antenna tuner would have been nice, but I personally use a resonate antenna. The reason I need an antenna tuner is because I operate on 30 m and and my antenna isn’t resonate on 30 m. If I was in a field scenario, I wouldn’t use 30 m. My SOTAbeams antenna is 40 m and 20 m. I know what bands I’m using. Julian, OH8STN, also throws shade at the loud voices for spamming low quality content. I agree with him, but this is mostly a YouTube problem. YouTube favors low quality but frequent content. If you can publish a video daily, it will produce more traffic than a weekly video.
Another amazing YouTuber is Michael, KB9VBR. His videos are once per week meaning he gets overshadowed by the loud voices. Why does it seem like I’m against the loud voices? Because they control YouTube content. Radiosification is an amazing channel for anything VHF/UHF digital. If you search for digital hotspots, his videos are hard to find. It is easy, however, to find the loud voices. They spam 20 minute videos with 3 minutes of actual content. Radiosification has videos under 10 minutes that explain everything you need. KB9VBR does the same thing. For example, Michael’s recent video on how to setup APRS on the FT3DR is direct and to the point. It shows you what you need to know. Take other channel that do the same thing. They draw out their videos. The key length is 10 minutes since it gives you ads at that point. This just leads to a difficulty in finding good information.
How has this lead to burnout? Because I’m finding it hard to expand what I do in amateur radio since information is harder to find. I prefer to learn about a topic online first before reaching out to experts in the community. The reason being is because I don’t want to look like an absolute noob when I do. I understand that I do look like a noob but at least I have a basis of understanding. When knowledge is swapped out for clicks and thumbnails with stupid faces, it dilutes the information. It seems like YouTubers care more about clicks and traffic than actually being elmers. At that point, why be on YouTube? Fame and fortune. As someone who has a massive YouTube channel and a decent sized Twitch channel, I can tell you that there isn’t much fame and fortune in YouTube or Twitch. For the top guys there is, but those top guys are an anomoly. Look at Jim, W6LG, on YouTube. He is the perfect example of an elmer, though his videos are pretty boring. This is what amateur radio channels should be. It seems that most are focused on vlogging over education.
Lately, we have had some pretty crazy weather. It snowed mid-April. We are mid-May with temperatures in the 50 F range. This makes it tough to get outside and setup projects. I prefer warmer weather. I don’t get discouraged by cold weather much, but when I do, it is usually because we have a stretch of days in the 70 F range followed by a week in the 40 F range. The rain has also been a problem. We get a rain storm every few days, making it tough to get outside. Water and electronics don’t mix. It seems like I’m making excuses, but it is much easier to sit indoors than to wait for the one day where weather is perfect so I can knock out a bunch of activities. One project that I’ve been waiting on is setting up my guy kit for my SOTAbeams antenna. I haven’t had the chance to do this due to the weather. It is also a project that I need two people for, and my wife isn’t always available to help out. This means that most two person projects are limited to the weekends, and if the weather is poor, the project gets postponed. Last weekend, we had a thunderstorm and it knocked over a tree onto my car. This means the plan for the weekend was removing the tree and assessing the state of my car.
I know that the weather will be improving soon, but this means I will have to cram a bunch of projects into a few days. There are a lot of things that need to be done in that time frame since many of my projects revolve around field day. I’ve been trying to get a portable antenna and all of the coax I need. I need know how to use my mast and everything associated with it. As I’ve stated in my post about my first POTA activation, it is more important to invest in yourself than gear. I had some of the best gear but struggled to use it.
I, honestly, didn’t have anything to write about. Since I didn’t do much, there wasn’t much to write about. I struggled to think about topics. I think what I’m going to start doing is just reviewing something that I did or a piece of gear I have. This nice thing about having a decent income is that I can buy almost anything that I want. I have multiple HTs that I could talk about. I have multiple antennas. I have so much to review. I just need to pick an item from my pile and talk about it. I wanted this to turn into a YouTube channel, but I don’t have an editor for amateur radio. The guy I found that could do it didn’t product videos I was happy with. Many either want too high of a price for their level of work or won’t stick around long term. I don’t want to have someone make videos for a month just to leave. Then, I have to hunt someone else down. I’ve also been focusing more on my other YouTube channels, which revolve around gaming and watches. Yes, I am a watch collector. I have been doing quite a few videos over my collection. The gaming channel is a little easier since I’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve cut my streaming hours on Twitch down a considerable amount. Much of this is to find focus as what to do next. This frustration has spilled over to other areas.
I said the goal of this blog was education and that is still the plan. I lost sight of that for a bit. My plan is to do more gear reviews. I will pick up one thing from my gear pile and talk about it. Tell you the experience I had with it. This isn’t an unboxing channel where I will sit in front of a green screen and talk about how cool it is. There won’t be any live reactions. Hodinkee, a watch website, does a segment called A Week On The Wrist, where they wear a watch for a week and give an impression. That is what I want to do. I will pick a piece of gear and use it for a week. This will give me a good idea of how it works and functions. My plan is to start this next week. Today, I will go to my gear pile and grab something. That is what I will use for the week.
Thank you for reading and being patient with me. I plan to refocus and be back next week with better content. Until then, stay safe and 73.