[handiham-world] Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 11 September 2013

  • From: "Patrick Tice" <wa0tda@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <handiham-world@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2013 12:37:37 -0500

Courage Kenny Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 11
September 2013

This is a free weekly news & information update from Courage Kenny Handiham
System <http://handiham.org> . Our contact information is at the end, or
simply email handiham@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx for changes in subscriptions or to
comment. You can listen to this news online.  

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Welcome to Handiham World.


9/11 - pause to consider how Amateur Radio has changed to respond in

K0CJ fixes the antenna

In this vintage photo, volunteer Clair Robinson, K0CJ, climbed the tower to
maintain the Handiham antenna system just as a jet airliner passed high
overhead, visible through the elements of the VHF log periodic antenna. 

That was quite a few years ago now. Our W0ZSW station has moved from the old
Golden Valley location and is now updated to Remote Base status so that
Handiham members everywhere can use it. Other things have changed since
2001, too. The September 11 attacks took place that year, and I remember
where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.  Most of us will
forever associate the memory of some mundane daily activity with that
horrific act of terrorism.

It was the morning of September 11, 2001.  I was walking down the corridor
at Courage Center. The sunlight was streaming through the skylights that
topped the atrium over the hallway and I was thinking to myself what a fine
Tuesday it was. Minnesota Radio Camp at Courage North had been wrapped up
the previous week, and we would now move forward into another season of ham
radio fun as radio clubs began their meeting cycles again after the summer
hiatus. I had taken a few days off work right after Radio Camp, and it
really felt like a perfect day!

That changed abruptly when I poked my head into the office of a co-worker
whose office was just past the atrium. He was leaning forward, his eyes
glued to a 5-inch black and white TV set.

"Look at this", he said.

And there it was - an airliner was striking one of the towers, probably
United Flight 175 and WTC Tower 2. Needless to say, nothing much got done at
work anywhere for the rest of the day. It felt as if the world had abruptly
shifted - and in a sense it had. Many civilians, some of them amateur radio
operators doing engineering work at the broadcast facilities on the towers,
lost their lives that day.  Frightened office workers jumped to their deaths
rather than be incinerated by the spreading flames. In under two hours both
towers collapsed, spreading destruction over lower Manhattan, and widening
the disaster area. News followed about a similar attack on the Pentagon and
about the loss of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 died and
another 6,000 were injured.  Everyone dropped what they were doing and
listened to the news - and if they could, many volunteered to help by
donating blood, assisting with communications, or literally however they
could be of assistance.

Amateur Radio is about communicating, and those of us who have participated
in public service communications and even Field Day would see many changes
in the years following 9/11. 

I don't want to make this a trip down memory lane, but we do have to recall
how things used to be before 9/11.  Most everyone remembers being surprised
about how difficult it turned out to be to communicate.  Different
communications procedures, many different types of equipment, the unexpected
overload of some infrastructure while other infrastructure became
overloaded, different assigned frequencies, confusing multiple agency
responses that overlapped or interfered with each other, lack of an
understandable unified command structure, and a relentless stream of rumors
- all of this combined to slow the response to a serious disaster and make
communications less effective. By their nature, many communications
emergencies happen with little or no warning, and they may be localized or
widespread - often there is no way to predict what will happen, even among
those who work in emergency services.  

That is why emergency services training needs to be broad-based, emphasizing
flexibility but stressing a command structure that is going to work in most,
if not all, situations and that can "flex" enough to fit the situation.
Different agencies need to work together, and they cannot easily do so
without being able to communicate.  This was one of the biggest lessons
learned in the 9/11 response and follow up. Emergency communications
training needed to include the understanding of a more unified command
structure and procedures that would work well across agencies during an
emergency.  Hardware had to be compliant, too - it would do no good to have
radios that could not talk to each other. 

It would no longer be acceptable for amateur radio operators to train
outside the rest of the emergency response community. Joint exercises would
be needed, and amateurs would need to understand something new: an Incident
Command System. From weather disasters to chemical spills, an ICS could be
set up to deal with the situation, and hams who responded would only get in
the way without learning the new system's structure and communications
procedures. ARRL responded with the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications
Course. Federal monies were available to pay for the tuition, and amateurs
were able to learn the new command system as well as something else that is
really important: basic communications skills!

What?  Basic communications skills?  

I thought that as long-time licensees (many of us, anyway), we would have
developed good communications skills just by getting on the air.  

Well, that is a quaint fantasy.  There is nothing quite like attending an
organized communications training event taught by professionals to learn
just how much one doesn't know.  Our club had such an event at Courage St.
Croix in Stillwater, Minnesota.  Although we had an HF station available,
this event concentrated on handheld portable radios. After all, in most
emergency scenarios the portable radio is the one piece of gear most likely
to be available on short notice and which will be able to accompany you to
your communications post. The exercise included radio basics: transmitting
and receiving on a simplex frequency and on the local repeater.  We could
all do that without a problem, but then the exercise took an ugly turn:  We
were told that in this simulation, the local repeater had gone down and it
would be necessary to reprogram our radios to an unfamiliar pair of repeater
frequencies with a new subaudible tone.  Just how ugly did it turn out to
be?  I'd say at least 2/3 of the group had some trouble with this basic
task.  Of course there were different makes and models of radio there, and
you were out of luck if there wasn't someone who had the same radio as you
and who knew how to program it. 

Mind you, we hadn't even gotten to what constitutes an effective exchange of
information on the air because many of our group could not program their
radios!  My biggest takeaway from that particular exercise was that most of
us were really not ready to respond effectively in an emergency.  Obviously
the time to learn how to operate one's equipment is BEFORE it needs to be
used in an emergency.  Having to fiddle around with a radio before you can
actually use it wastes precious minutes - minutes that could cost lives in a
real emergency. But I look at Field Day and Radio Camp and see pretty much
the same thing today.  Many of us - including me - are less than competent
in programming our radios.  While Field Day and Radio Camp are more laid
back than a formal communications training exercise, it still helps to know
how to use one's radio.  I make sure that I have at least one radio that I
do know how to operate charged and ready to go!

Is not being able to program your radio the "tip of the iceberg"?

I think it just might be.  

Like an iceberg floating in the ocean with only its tip above the waves and
its massive bulk lurking out of sight underwater, not knowing how to program
your radio is only an indication of what else might be - and often times is
- lacking in your emergency response capabilities. That is why the ARRL
Level 1 course (now called "Intro to EmComm Online") covered "basic
communications skills" when I decided to take it.  The reason I like this
course is that it takes very little for granted aside from that fact that
you are a licensed amateur with an interest in learning emergency
communications. After that, all bets are off, and the differences between
"normal" ham radio and "emergency communications techniques" are explained.
How to speak clearly into a microphone is even covered!  The virtues of
being brief and clear in your communications with the use of plain language
are emphasized.  Standard phonetics and tactical callsigns are reviewed and

Let's face it - We all know operators who yammer on and on, timing out
repeaters regularly.  Others use lots of jargon and make up their own
phonetics. Some have terrible signals, either very hard to hear because of
their low modulation or overdriven so badly that distortion approaches 50%.
No wonder all of these shortcomings are mentioned - along with "best
practices" - in the ARRL course. 

Another part of the iceberg that isn't visible until it's too late is the
lack of preparedness.  As we learned from 9/11, disasters come unexpectedly
on the finest of days, out of a clear blue sky, with no warning.  We learned
that being prepared ahead of time was just going to be part of the deal from
that day forward.  It will no longer do to call yourself an emergency
communicator if most of your equipment is scattered around the house and
garage, microphones or antennas are missing, and the batteries are dead. We
learned that a "go-kit" also includes things like flashlights, emergency
contact information, instruction manuals for equipment, writing equipment, a
cell phone, spare batteries and chargers, identification and authorization
paperwork, resources list...  Well, you get the idea.  There is a lot to get
together if you expect to deploy to an emergency communications post. It
seems that we need to plan and prepare much more deeply and thoughtfully
than we have done in the past.  It could even be a bit like planning to camp
out during Field Day weekend, but being ready to do so on short notice
throughout the year. 

We also learned that we have to understand the requirements of "served
agencies" and the procedures they and other emergency communicators such as
police and fire will be using.  We need to know the Incident Command System
because we will be lost without it, unsure of who is in charge and how
things are to be handled. 

A dozen years after 9/11 we find that expectations of what constitutes a
prepared emergency communicator are much different. At one time simply being
a licensed amateur radio operator was enough to get you in the door as a
valuable communications asset.  Today we know that we have to study and
prepare.  We have to practice with other communicators in formal drills and
use our equipment often enough to stay current with our operating skills. We
have learned that consistent use of good operating practices every day, even
in normal non-emergency communications, builds good and solid habits that
will come out naturally in a real emergency.  In a sense, studying for
EmComm can actually make you a better amateur radio operator across the
board, even if you never deploy to a real emergency. 

Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Courage Kenny Handiham Coordinator


Practical radio

pliers and wire

Making a quarter-wave vertical antenna work

The much-maligned 1/4 wave vertical antenna doesn't really deserve all the
bad stuff that people say about it. A common refrain is that a vertical "is
an antenna that transmits equally poorly in all directions" - I've heard it
many times over the years. If you didn't have a huge back yard with room for
a half-wave dipole on 160 through 10 meters, you were to be pitied because
you would probably be stuck putting up a vertical antenna, the only thing
you could fit into your puny city lot. 

Poor you!

A 1/4 wave vertical is really a very simple antenna.  It is like 1/2 of a
typical 1/2 wave resonant dipole antenna, but it is mounted vertically at
ground level and fed with 50 ohm coaxial cable against ground (either the
actual ground or a conductive ground plane.)  If you wanted to make a simple
vertical antenna for 20 meters, it would be about 16 feet tall, insulated
from the ground at the base.  You could plant a ground rod near the base and
attach the coax braid to it, then attach the coax center conductor to the
bottom of the 16 foot vertical element and there you go: a fine vertical

Well, not really.  

A ground rod does provide DC grounding, but it is not going to work as a way
to return current passing through the lossy soil when you are using the
antenna!  Remember that with this design, it is like half of a regular
dipole and the other half is provided by the ground.  Current must flow in
both the vertical element and in the ground, and if there is resistance in
either of those things your antenna will not work very well.  You will have
one of those lousy verticals that lives up to its bad reputation as a poor
performer.  To make a 1/4 wave vertical work well, it needs ground radials,
which are wires connected to a common grounded point very close to the base
of the antenna and radiating outward toward all compass points along the
ground like spokes of a wheel. You can make them roughly the same length as
the radiating element, but if they are on or buried in the ground the
precise length is not critical at all. The more of them you have up to
around 120, the better.  There is a point of diminishing returns and you
will find that the improvement over a dozen or so radials may not be worth
the time and effort. 

When you decide to mount a 1/4 wave vertical above ground, you need to treat
the ground plane differently.  The radials must now be tuned - roughly a
quarter wave, and there must be at least one of them tuned for each band on
which the antenna is resonant if it is a multiband design like a trapped
vertical. The ends of the radials must be insulated because high voltage
will appear there, and the ends must also be kept away from metal that may
detune them. You can effect a somewhat better impedance match on an elevated
vertical by sloping the radials down a bit, thus bringing the feedpoint
impedance closer to 50 ohms. The obvious problem with the elevated design is
that you need a supporting structure for the antenna itself AND tie-off
points for each radial.  However, in elevated operation you do not need
large numbers of radials and four will do nicely.  Like the ground-mounted
design, the radials in an elevated installation must be connected to a
common grounding point within a couple of inches of the feedpoint.  If you
have an idea that you will mount a vertical on the top of a tower and
install radials on the ground, forget it - this will not work at all because
the tower will look like part of the antenna system to your transceiver, and
it will be far off resonance. 

It doesn't matter if the wire you use for radials is insulated or not, but
insulated wire may last longer underground when exposed to moisture.  Wires
lying on top of the ground will work as well as buried wires.  The main
reason to bury them is to avoid a tripping hazard, so they can be just
beneath the sod and work well.  There is no point burying them any deeper
unless they must pass underneath a flowerbed or garden, for example. 

Next week:  More on verticals.

Remember that this column is about "practical radio", which is figuring out
what works and making the most of it.  Use what works for you!  



Handiham Nets are on the air daily. 

If there is no net control station during any scheduled net time, just go
right ahead and start a round table discussion. 

TMV71A transceiver

We are scheduled to be on the air daily at 11:00 USA Central Time, plus
Wednesday & Thursday evenings at 19:00 USA Central Time.  A big THANK YOU to
all of our net control stations!  What will Doug, N6NFF, come up with for
his trivia question tonight?  I guess we'll just have to tune in and listen!
Tune in and see how you do with the question this week, or just check in to
say hello.  

We maintain our nets at 11:00 hours daily relative to Minnesota time.  Since
the nets remain true to Minnesota time, the difference between Minnesota
time and GMT is -5 hours.  The net is on the air at 16:00 hours GMT.   

The official and most current net news may be found at:


A dip in the pool

Pat shows off his new Plantronics USB headset!

It's time to test our knowledge by taking a dip in the pool - the Amateur
Radio question pool, that is!  

Let's go to the General Class pool and examine a question about vertical
antennas, which you are sure to get correct:

G9B06 asks, "Where should the radial wires of a ground-mounted vertical
antenna system be placed?" 

Possible answers are:

A. As high as possible above the ground 

B. Parallel to the antenna element 

C. On the surface or buried a few inches below the ground 

D. At the top of the antenna 

Since we already discussed this topic in practical radio, you know that the
correct answer is C: On the surface or buried a few inches below the ground.
This question is actually pretty easy as long as you understand what a
vertical antenna is and a little about how it works.  Looking at the
distracters for this question, I would have to say that answering the
question with any of them other than the correct answer would pretty much
prove that the examinee has no idea what a vertical antenna looks like or
how it works.  While it is easy for me to understand verticals, I have to
remind myself that a newbie in ham radio may not be clear on the concept. As
an instructor or mentor to new hams in my club, I need to explain such
things clearly without making lots of assumptions about what my students
"should" know.  An example would be a person entering amateur radio without
a background in short-wave listening or any particular emphasis on radio
physics. After 9/11, there was a resurgence of interest in ham radio, driven
by people who wanted to communicate and work in public service.  These new
hams may or may not have had much background in the basic physics of radio
and electronics, but in any case the engineering aspects of radio were
certainly not the thing that drew them in.  A good mentor will not make too
many assumptions and will patiently explain the basics. 

Please e-mail handiham@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx to comment. 


Bulletin Board

Old time cathedral radio

A quest to save AM broadcast?

On the board today we have a heads-up from Ron, W2WU, about a New York Times
article entitled "A Quest To Save AM Before It Is Lost In The Static", which
you can find through a web search on many newspaper sites. To boil it down,
Ron reminds us of AM radio's legacy and how challenging it is to get a clear
AM broadcast signal with so many interference sources out there today. Ajit
Pai, J.D., Federal Communications Commissioner
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajit_Pai_%28FCC%29>  has taken up the cause of
finding some way to save AM broadcast. 

I found the article Ron suggested by using Google.  It was on my local
newspaper site, www.startribune.com, where it appeared yesterday.  We all
know that the proliferation of switching power supplies that are cheaply
made and used by many rechargeable gadgets as well as compact fluorescent
lamps (CFL's) and Broadband over power lines (BPL) have contributed to
raising the noise floor, especially for AM reception. 

But there are also lots of other ways to listen to media these days, and AM
radio stations struggle to remain financially solvent among such relentless
competition.  The days of the local AM station being the only game in town
are gone forever as people divide their listening time among many, many
other resources from satellite radio to FM broadcast to podcasts to internet
streams.  I have to admit that I seldom listen to AM broadcast anymore
myself, because it doesn't really have program material I care about, not
because of interference or poor technical quality.  One stark example of
this is that we bought a new car for my wife this summer.  

Now, months later as I read this article about saving AM radio, I got to
thinking... "Does that new car even HAVE an AM radio?"

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I think it probably does but that I
have never even tried it.  When we got the car home I set the automatic
presets for FM broadcast and then set up the Sirius/XM presets.  This is the
first vehicle about which I can say that I never gave AM broadcast a
thought.  Admittedly, it is my wife's car and not one I usually drive, but
still - It is the reality of AM broadcast these days.  When listening to
media at home, while walking in the park, on public transportation, or while
driving - AM radio is at the very bottom of the list for me.  Oh, don't get
me wrong;  I've got lots of AM listening under my belt over the years,
having grown up with it being the primary mode of spoken word broadcast
throughout my childhood.  The sad truth is that AM is in trouble not because
of one thing, like interference.  It's as if it's surrounded by attacks on
all sides:  interference, changes in local business needs that have dried up
ad revenue, expensive equipment to maintain, a listening public with a
bazillion other choices, better technologies for delivering quality sound,
and the uninspiring but cheap to produce programming than has filtered down
to the AM broadcast band; things like radio preachers and talk shows. 

The last time I listened to AM radio was on the 4th of July, when we visited
another couple's condo near the St. Croix River at Stillwater, MN.  We
watched the fireworks over the river while the local AM station played music
synchronized to the pyrotechnics.  That's the sort of quirky local
programming that AM has always done pretty well, and that may just go away
forever unless some way (or compelling reason aside from nostalgia) is found
to save it. As amateur radio operators we would benefit from anything that
cuts down on interference, that's for sure!

*       You can read Commissioner Pai's remarks at the NAB Show's AM Band
Revitalization Panel on the FCC website.
*       Notes from the NAB Convention are on the Indiana RadioWatch website
in completely accessible format.

Also from Ron, W2WU:

Speaking of "lost in the static":   

In a day and age where lamps, ovens, cell phones, medical devices and
goodness knows whatever else are all conspiring to wipe out any and all
analog transmission of signals, its kinda dopey (and technically reassuring
in a low-tech way) to read about a misbehaving well pump in the neighborhood
messing up the amateur band.   THAT we can find and fix!   -R (W2WU)



This week @ HQ

Cartoon robot with pencil

Important:  Take our on line survey <http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/QZX6BN6>
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Help us to make the Handiham program as good as it can be.  Take a short
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Remote Base News

The remote base software team is gearing up again.  Stay tuned!

W0EQO station in the server room at Courage North.


Both Handiham Remote Base internet stations W0ZSW and W0EQO are on line. 

Outages: We are not expecting any outages.  Outages are reported on

Band conditions: As of this writing, conditions on HF are good to fair.
Check http://handiham.org/remotebase/station-status/ for a current HF
conditions report from G4ILO. 

Operating tip:  Find out how to tell if the remote base station is already
in use if you are using JAWS: 

*       Listen to the tutorial:
*       Read the tutorial in accessible HTML: 



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Don't care to download Handiham materials via computer? This digital
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we have room to put the audio lecture series or equipment tutorials on them,

*       If you have trouble logging in, please let us know.  
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the zip file you need and unzip it so the Daisy book folder can be accessed
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books by sorting the files by date. Be sure the latest date is at the top.
The link to sort is called "Last Modified".  
*       You can also find what is on a web page by using CONTROL-F.  This
brings up a search box and you can type a key word in, such as "July".  You
may find more than one July, including 2012, but you will eventually come
across what we have posted for July 2013. 

*       CQ for July is now available for our blind members in the DAISY
*       Worldradio and QST Daisy for August are ready. 
*       Our thanks to Bob, N1BLF, Jim, KJ3P, and Ken, W9MJY, for reading
this month.  Look for these DAISY materials in the members section.

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getting your request back out to you. 

DAISY audio digests are available for our blind members who do not have
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The Library of Congress NLS has a list of vendors for the digital
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Get it all on line as an alternative:  Visit the DAISY section on the
Handiham website after logging in. 



Stay in touch

Cartoon robot with cordless phone

Be sure to send Nancy your changes of address, phone number changes, or
email address changes so that we can continue to stay in touch with you. You
may either email Nancy at hamradio@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx or call her at
763-520-0512.  If you need to use the toll-free number, call 1-866-426-3442.

Handiham Program Coordinator Patrick Tice, WA0TDA, may be reached at
handiham@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx or by phone at 763-520-0511.  

Mornings Monday through Thursday are the best time to contact us. 

The Courage Kenny Handiham Program depends on the support of people like
you, who want to share the fun and friendship of ham radio with others.
Please help us provide services to people with disabilities. 

Call 1-866-426-3442 toll-free. -- Help us get new hams on the air.

Get the Handiham E-Letter by email every Wednesday, and stay up-to-date with
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You may listen in audio to the E-Letter at Handiham Weekly E-Letter in MP3
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Email us to subscribe:

That's it for this week. 73 from all of us at the Courage Kenny Handihams!
Coordinator, Courage Kenny Handiham Program
Reach me by email at:

Nancy, Handiham Secretary:

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contact Handihams for help joining the ARRL. We will be happy to help you
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  • » [handiham-world] Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 11 September 2013 - Patrick Tice