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Amateur Radio April 2015

Delivery expected from March 26

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Portable operations booming

I continue to observe that the number of amateurs operating portable and QRP/portable is increasing. Yes, part of that due to the number of operators participating as SOTA Activators, but that is not the only group.

Many operators are heading out to find a location which offers a quieter RF noise environment than they have at home. I guess that some may not wish to, or not able to, erect antennas at home. Even a local park where you can find a spot well away from the almost ubiquitous power lines can provide an operating site with less noise than at home, or from the vehicle on the road.

Such an operating site can bring stations well out of the noise, with the lower noise levels away from man-made interference sources.

I guess the extreme is to head for a remote SOTA summit without any RF or other infrastructure.

Another factor works well with the lower noise location is the challenge of gathering Parks for one of the award schemes: Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award from Amateur Radio Victoria, the South Australian National and Conservation Parks Award from the Adelaide Hills Amateur Radio Society, the VK Flora and Fauna Award administered by Paul VK5PAS and the World Wide Flora and Fauna Award administered by a group of European amateurs, with Paul VK5PAS being the local representative.

These awards are not strictly competitive; rather they set differing levels of challenge for you the operator. You can simply be a Chaser (or Hunter in the case of the VKFF and WWFF awards), seeking to make contact with someone who has ventured out into a Park or onto a summit to “play radio” for a period of time. Or you can check the rules and head out as an Activator.

Whether an amateur is out and about for SOTA, one of the award schemes or simply out enjoying the great outdoors with their radio equipment, activity has significantly increased over the past couple of years, especially on 40 metres. Why 40 metres, one might ask. I can think of several reasons: propagation during the day is usually reasonable, allowing contacts out to several hundred kilometres even with QRP power levels, it is one of the “common ground” bands where all three levels of amateur licence can operate, and one can build reasonably efficient lightweight antennas for the band (doubling up as a 15 metre antenna).

But there are also some downsides: especially noise can be high at home locations, thanks to the multitude of devices with poorly filtered switch-mode power supplies and other electrically noisy devices that abound in urban or semi-urban locations.

This last factor can sometimes cause friction between operators. The old adage of listening for several minutes before placing a call may no longer be adequate. I frequently observe operators coming up on 40 m calling CQ, without first asking if the frequency is in use. They have obviously not heard any signals on the chosen frequency, yet a weak QRP portable station has been attempting to conclude a contact with a more distant station. Under such circumstances, the newcomer to the frequency causes much disruption, often being pounced upon by listeners waiting to contact the QRP station with the advice “the frequency is in use, please QSY”.

I therefore request that operators please be considerate: listen carefully for a couple of minutes at least, not just several seconds before transmitting; please do announce yourself and ask “Is the frequency in use?” – listeners who hear you well will advise if there is traffic on the frequency, and do not just come up and make a protracted CQ call, obliterating the attempts of the weaker stations to complete their contact. Be considerate.

Antenna safety

A photo in this month’s SOTA column reminds me of some factors that we should always consider when erecting antennas, be it at home or when portable. It also applies to the article describing the “Wadetenna” published last month an d the article on “Wire antennas for seaside DXing” in this issue: be very aware of your environment at all times. Watch for power lines. Keep an alert eye on the weather – being out portable or even when erecting a new antenna at home, be aware of the possible danger of the antenna making contact with a power line, or of approaching weather which may bring thunderstorms. The consequences can be lethal! Keep safe! And always consider others around you when setting up in a portable location.

Under next month,


Peter VK3PF

This month’s cover:

April 25 this year marks the centenary of the landing of military forces from Australia and New Zealand on the Gallipoli Peninsula. To commemorate the centenary, Australian amateurs are able to use the AX prefix for two days. There will also be the special callsigns with ANZAC as the suffix operating during the year. See details in the report on page 32.

WIA President's Comment

The last 50 Years – a Personal Perspective

Phil Wait VK2ASD, with Roger Harrison VK2ZRH
A few months ago I asked WIA Director Roger Harrison to write a stand-by President’s Comment in case it was required while I was overseas on business. It was not used at the time, but I thought members would be interested and it’s probably a welcome change from your President banging on every month:

I realised last year that I had been licensed for 50 years; something of a milestone. This realisation led me to think about the changes that transpired in amateur radio over those five decades.

Encouraged by a local amateur, Alan Reid VK3AHR (SK), I sat for and passed my exam as a teenager in 1964. The exam required essay-style answers to questions; mathematical questions required answers showing the working-out. I had to sign a declaration under the Official Secrets Act to get my licence, and was subsequently issued the callsign VK3ZRY.

Through the 1960s, there were three Amateur licence grades: Full, Limited and ATV (your call with a /T suffix – you had to pass an additional exam to get it). Limited licensees were confined to all bands above 30 MHz. There were only five permitted transmission modes – hand-sent Morse, AM, FM, RTTY, SSB and TV. You could build your own equipment or modify ex-commercial or ex-military gear, generally without restriction – provided you kept transmitters within the proscribed power levels of 120 W on AM/CW, or 400 W pep SSB.

The minimum age for prospective licensees was 14, but you weren’t allowed on-air until the age of 15! I recall reports of US Novice licensees getting their tickets at ages 11-12. The question of having a Novice licence in Australia was widely discussed on-air and at amateur gatherings. The general idea was to attract young people. However, I distinctly recall that voice transmission for the prospective Novice licence (should the Earth turn upside down) was strongly frowned upon by a section of the extant amateur fraternity – new entrants to the hobby would have to know and use Morse; it was the amateur tradition, after all! Mind you, others expressed the view that Limited licensees (“Z-calls”) were “not real amateurs”, even though the introduction of the Limited licence in 1954 was strongly advocated by no less a figure than John Moyle VK2JU, the then Editor of Radio and Hobbies magazine (forerunner to Electronics Australia).

In the mid-1960s, the AM-versus-SSB wrangle was in full swing on the HF bands; SSB proponents were derided as “duck-talkers”. Use of SSB on VHF was in its infancy, but the rancour on the HF bands had not spread to the bands above 30 MHz. In 1964, we lost 50-52 MHz to Channel 0 TV, along with 288-296 MHz to other services. However, we gained the 420-450 MHz band on a secondary basis, shared with radiolocation, chiefly used by Defence. If you dabbled with transistors for homebrew amateur rigs, you were considered to be out on the bleeding edge. Three-legged fuses were legion; that’s how you learned.

Amateur radio entered the space age in the 1960s with the launching of the OSCAR satellites. Here, indeed, was a new frontier. A bunch of student friends and I established the RMIT Astronautical Society to pursue space science interests. Inevitably, we hooked up with the Melbourne University Astronautical Society (MUAS), who embarked on a project to design and build an amateur satellite using off-the-shelf parts. In May 1966, MUAS trialled a prototype 29 MHz beacon on a high altitude balloon flight, dubbed Bravo 5. I remember it caused a great deal of excitement in the amateur fraternity at the time; I recorded the flight and plotted the beacon signal strengths for the MUAS team. I still have that plot. Come 1970, the Australian-built Australis OSCAR 5 was launched in January. It established a number of firsts for small, low Earth orbit satellites.

The 1970s ushered in a revolution in the electronics sector – the microcomputer. This soon drove the development and adoption of digital ‘packet radio’. In due course, the regulator moved with the times and upgraded permitted modes for amateurs – digital data and slow scan TV were added and amateurs could exploit six transmission modes. Use of the amateur VHF and UHF bands grew rapidly, fuelled by surplus ex-commercial transceivers and plug-and-play rigs from the amateur rig manufacturers. Through the ‘70s there was rapid development and deployment of VHF and UHF beacons and repeaters. A series of OSCAR satellites with linear transponders expanded on the short-lived OSCARs 3 and 4 of 1965, popularising amateur satellite operations, which has carried through to today. Russian-built amateur satellites joined the bandwagon.

The CB boom of the mid-late ‘70s (‘those pirates stole our band!’) proved an unexpected boon as many CBers ‘saw the light’ and joined the ranks of radio amateurs. Many amateurs dabbled in CB, too. A Novice amateur licence was created in this era, but its first incarnation was a failure, with a two-year tenure limit, compulsory Morse test, a few HF bands and 30 watt power limit. It was subsequently ‘corrected’ and provided a stepping-stone for many new amateur radio newcomers.

In 1979, the three WARC bands at 10 MHz, 18 MHz and 24 MHz were agreed at an ITU meeting, thanks to the efforts of WIA representatives David Wardlaw VK3ADW in company with Michael Owen VK3KI (SK). When released in due course across the globe, the HF amateur bands grew by 60 per cent and amateur transceiver manufacturers added these bands to their rigs and promoted it as a ‘feature’.

Come the 1980s, our then licensing authority reluctantly agreed to packet radio networking, but limited it to only one methodology. Some assiduous advocacy saw that limitation lifted, later. A 2 m allocation (146-148 MHz) was added to the Novice licence amid some controversy. The pace of development on the VHF and UHF bands continued relentlessly, with more beacons and repeaters spreading across further reaches of the country. A new space frontier opened-up, with the first use of amateur radio on manned spacecraft – the Space Shuttle; another space project in which Australian amateurs were in the fore.

Technological developments in digital transmission in the 1990s saw amateurs exploring spread spectrum transmission modes as well as narrowband digital modes for weak-signal working. As these developments burgeoned, the regulator had to play catch-up and expand the amateur licence conditions. The Novice Limited licence was introduced, designed to attract young people, but low power and restriction to 2 m and 70 cm proved too limiting and take up was low. Amateur radio in space expanded over the 1990s, with operation aboard the Russian space laboratory Mir and the International Space Station establishing a strong following with passionate experimenters in Australia and around the world.

Since 2000, the number and variety of transmission modes has continued amazing growth and usage within amateur radio. Fifty years of continuous development has created a multitude of facets and niches that can now be explored in our hobby. I am astonished that, in this era, amateurs are able to take a small computer board, such as the Raspberry Pi or the Arduino, and then use mathematical software such as Matlab Home, adding signal processing or amateur radio modules to create a new transmission system not-yet-invented! And create another next week! All for less cost than a commercial off-the-shelf amateur rig with DSP.

Amateur radio has come a truly long way in the five decades since I passed my licence exam.

I am a product of the Rex Black Youth Radio Scheme which was introduced into my secondary school in the 1960s, and many hours covertly studying the ARRL Handbook in economics classes for a Z-Call (VK2ZZQ). Luckily I passed both! Things have certainly come a long way in 50 years, but the next few years promise to be even more interesting.

PS: If you receive your AR on the usual date, there will still a few days for your club or group to apply for a special ANZAC callsign. Please use the on-line application form on the WIA Web site and ensure your application is received by the WIA before the strict 31st March cut-off date.

Table Of Contents

Past IARU Region 1 President now Mountain Goat Mark Walmsley G0VOF
H.K. Love A3BM/VK3KU Peter Wolfenden VK3RV
The ANZAC 100 activities begin Fred Swainston VK3DAC


Wire antennas for seaside DXing Peter Parker VK3YE
Run by the Sun – a solar powered caravan shack Rob Norman VK5SW
My homebrew ‘Combo-Star’ PIC-a-STAR transceiver Glenn Percy VK3PE
160/80 metre resonant half-wave end-fed antenna Wayne Pickard VK2ACY
The evolution of a multi-band, fan dipole for portable operation Julie Gonzales VK3FOWL and Joe Gonzales VK3YSP

Plus all the usual Club news and columns

The ANZAC 100 activities begin

Fred Swainston VK3DAC

WIA Director Fred Swainston VK3DAC outline the variety of activities and special callsigns that are associated with ANZAC Day 2015, marking the centenary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli.

H.K. Love A3BM/VK3KU

Peter Wolfenden VK3RV

In another article outlining historical figures associated with amateur radio and wartime activities, Peter VK3RV outlines the contributions of HK Love A3BM/VK3KU.

Wire antennas

Peter Parker VK3YE;
Wayne Pickard VK2ACY;
Julie Gonzales VK3FOWL and Joe Gonzales VK3YSP

In this issue we have three articles on relatively simple but effective wire antennas suitable for use in various situations. The articles should provide useful information for all amateurs, regardless of their level of experience in constructing antennas.

Run by the Sun – a solar powered caravan shack

Rob Norman VK5SW

Amateur radio articles need not always be of a technical nature to provide widespread reader interest – sometimes stories told of an old abandoned caravan being completely refurbished and becoming a secondary ham shack on a property well into the Australian outback can be wonderful entertainment.

I have just given away the plot – read it yourself and be entertained.

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Corrected article 1945 Albury Hamfest

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