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Amateur Radio October 2015

Delivery expected from 23 September


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Editorial

Portent of the solar minimum?

The past few weeks have seen very significantly different propagation on the lower HF bands. I tend to spend a reasonable amount of time on 40 metres: focussing on chasing SOTA and Parks activators or being out there occasionally as an Activator.

Sunspot numbers have been lower and we have also had occasional solar events which have disrupted the ionosphere, resulting in poorer propagation. Over the days before I prepared this item, the Hourly Area Prediction HAP Charts from the Space Weather Services pages (http://www.ips.gov.au/HF_Systems/1/1/1) have typically shown a maximum usable frequency for close in HF communications of 4 MHz and sometimes less. This means that the usual Near Vertical Incidence propagation is simply not usable for those short to medium range contacts. One often sees HF Communications Warnings such as this:

Due to continued very low levels of ionising radiation and expected rise in geomagnetic activity levels from 11 to 13 September, mild to significant depressions in MUFs and degradations in HF conditions may be observed during this period.”

Not good news for those playing SOTA or Parks!

As we move toward the solar minimum around 2020, conditions are likely to continue to decline as the sunspot number decreases. There are many predictions available on the web.

More importantly, we will need to consider our options for operating: band and mode to use will become more important.

There have already been some discussions on the SOTA_Australia Group about the viability of 2 m for activations. Several have noted that 2 m FM may work adequately if you at a location close to a population centre with a number of resident amateurs. One may be able to gain the number of contacts (four) to qualify a summit. Perhaps more should consider 2 m SSB? You can build small lightweight Yagi antennas that pack down to manageable packages. Or even simply string a dipole or collinear vertical antenna out horizontally broadside to the direct of likely contacts. If you are using a HF/VHF/UHF multiband radio (FT-8x7, IC-706, etc.), you will have the ability to operate on 2 m SSB. Add a small Yagi and you may be surprised at the distances you can work. For example, Andrew VK1NAM has had good success using Aircraft Enhancement on 2 m – check out his blog.

It is certain that propagation will change. As amateurs, we have considerable flexibility in the frequencies that we can use. We will need to be more alert to the ionospheric conditions and the effects on propagation and be ready to utilise openings when they occur.

Another possible outcome may arise after the World Radio Conference in November. Amongst many other proposals it consideration to allocating some spectrum to amateurs at around 5 MHz. Studies to date indicate great potential for amateur use of this segment of spectrum, with some countries already having access to the band. We will need to watch for news of the conference outcomes.

Such outcomes do not come easily. Many amateurs around the world contribute massive efforts to participate in such major conferences and the many lead up events. Similarly, the various IARU member societies (the WIA here in Australia) support those efforts throughout the lead up to these important events, usually at considerable expense to the bottom line of the organisation.

As noted by our President in his Comment this month, Government will usually only recognise a single peak body. For our hobby, that is the WIA. As we move forward into times of more change, in my view every amateur should be supporting the peak national body by being a member, thereby strengthening the ability of the national body to represent us, the members and amateurs.

Until next month,

Cheers,

Peter VK3PF


This Month’s cover:
It sounds idyllic – sailing in tropical waters in a luxury motor yacht. Read the account of Stephen Warrillow VK3SN of his trip in the Whitsundays, when amateur radio was added to the mix. Photo by Stephen Warrillow VK3SN.

WIA President's Comment

It never rains but it pours

Last month I told you that the WIA Board was meeting in Melbourne to review the operation of the WIA National Office in order to improve member services and position the organisation so it can capitalise on future opportunities.

Well, a lot has happened since then.

Firstly, the Australian Government announced the implementation of the Spectrum Review recommendations. The current apparatus, class and spectrum licensing regimes will be replaced with a new, single licence type based on a set of key parameters, such as frequencies, geographical details, rights to renewal, terms for variation or revocation, together with price and payment methods.

Secondly, the ACMA transitioned from its old RADCOM licensing platform to the new SPECTRA system developed under Project HELM (Holistic Engineering and Licence Management). There are a number of changes that will affect both new and existing licensees; for instance, if you have just passed your first amateur licence assessment, the ACMA will now send you an invoice for the licence fees and you will need to pay the ACMA directly, not via the WIA; if you are upgrading to a higher level licence you will need to apply for a completely new licence, not just upgrade your old one; and if you are like me and leave things till the last minute, you will now have 90 days to forget to renew your licence following an initial Validation notice from the ACMA.

Thirdly, following the review of the WIA’s office, it was determined that that the existing office structure did not meet our current and future needs. A decision was made to remove the position of Office Manager and replace it with an Executive Officer position with a much more active responsibility for the development and implementation of strategies designed to improve member services, and increase membership and support the Board. As a result, Mal Brooks has left the WIA, and Fred Swainston VK3DAC is acting in the Executive Officer position for a limited time. The WIA Board thanks Mal Brooks for his past service and we wish him well for the future. Recruitment action to select a candidate for the Executive Officer position will proceed in due course.

Fred has hit the ground running, and is currently working his way through our business, e-Commerce, website and membership database (MEMNET) systems, and processes and procedures, with a lot of help from the crew of volunteers in Melbourne. That may not sound like much, but the exercise has revealed a significant amount of duplication and inefficiency, which will ultimately lead to savings in staff time and increase the profitability in areas like the bookshop. Most importantly, if all the recommendations in the Government’s Spectrum Review are adopted, the WIA will need to be ready to play a much greater role in the administration of amateur radio in Australia in the not too-distant future.

As I said last month, change is difficult, and there will be some speed-bumps along the way. The costs of the office restructure, coupled with our international activities protecting our current bands and pursuing a case for a new Amateur allocation at 5 MHz, including sending a representative to the 2015 World Radio Conference in Geneva (WRC-15) next month, and the IARU Region-3 meeting in Bali this month, where we also need to be represented, is turning 2015 into a very expensive year. So, who said "it never rains, but it pours"?

One thing is for sure, we need every licensee possible to join the WIA so we are in the best possible position to represent Australian radio amateurs through this period of great change, and beyond. If you're already a member, thanks; buy a book or three and don’t forget to renew. If you’re not a member of the National WIA, please do consider joining – it’s only through membership of the National organisation, seen by the authorities as the only peak representative body, that you contribute to these vital activities, get to have a say in the future of amateur radio in Australia, and ensure the future of the WIA as your representative.

Hopefully, by the time that the deadline for next month’s column arrives, the situation will have settled down somewhat and I can concentrate on other things.

Phil Wait, VK2ASD
President, WIA

PS. One of the glaring problems we have is that fewer than 50% of members are using the on-line MEMNET system. Sure, there are issues with forgotten passwords and lost membership numbers, and some members’ email addresses are incorrect, but if we can get it to work properly with your help, the MEMNET system offers very significant savings on postage and membership administration time. So, please log into MEMNET from the WIA website and spend a little time to set-up a user profile or to check that your recorded details are correct – particularly your current email address.

Table Of Contents

GENERAL

VI0ANZAC on air despite challenges Jim Linton VK3PC
D-STAR repeater active in Mackay Waratah Swinton VK4BQ
Visit to HV0A Vatican City May 2015 David Long VK3BY
Thomas Robbins VK5DK/VK5AQ Lloyd Butler VK5BR
WIA calls for Special Purpose Grant proposals WIA Board
Cup Day radio display Tony Falla VK3KKP
Maritime Mobile in the Whitsundays Stephen Warrillow VK3SN
VK100ANZAC in Perth WA Bob Bristow VK6POP
Theatre Advertising Slides Peter Wolfenden VK3RV

TECHNICAL

A dual channel CAT interface Dale Hughes VK1DSH
A two transistor two band junkbox regenerative receiver Peter Parker VK3YE
The PEKS: a PICAXE electronic keyer shield for the PICAXE AXE-401 development shield base Steve Page VK6HV

Plus all the usual Club news and columns

Maritime Mobile in the Whitsundays

Stephen Warrillow VK3SN

The author has contributed several articles about setting up amateur radio stations and operating, usually in quite remote settings: on the top of the Bogong High Plains in the Victoria Alps, or as an adjunct activity to a bushwalk through the Cradle Mount Lake Saint Clair National Park, for example.

On this occasion, the author and team have enjoyed a week Maritime Mobile in the Whitsunday Islands area of Queensland: again enjoying magnificent scenery combined with some amateur radio fun.

Visit to HV0A Vatican City May 2015

David Long VK3BY

The author describes how he managed to arrange to visit and operate from the Vatican City station HV0A.

A dual channel CAT interface

Dale Hughes VK1DSH

This article describes a circuit to interface a computer to two (2) FT-817 transceivers to maintain CAT control, significantly simplifying the use of the transceivers during satellite communications.

The PEKS: a PICAXE electronic keyer shield for the PICAXE AXE-401 development shield base

Steve Page VK6HV

The author presents an interface board to plug into the Arduino-compatible PICAXE AXE-401 microcontroller board that then acts as an iambic electronic keyer.

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