Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Ham Radio Series 40 - Ham Radio in the Information Age

If you're one of the many who think of ham radio only in terms of communications after a SHTF event, you can skip this.  It has to do with features that aren't likely to be available in those days, but is more for people who "play on the radio" now, to varying degrees.

"Playing" maybe not in the sense of chatting on the local VHF/UHF repeaters on the way to and from work, but more for people who pursue the Summits On The Air (SOTA) or the Parks On The Air (POTA), two of the more active and more popular special event or special operation activities around today.  Or maybe folks operating QRP (low power) or perhaps chasing some operating achievement, like Worked All States (WAS) or the thousands of other pieces of "Wallpaper" one can strive for.  

Among the most popular pieces of wallpaper that people pursue is one from the American Radio Relay League, called the DX Century Club, and the first level of that award is for proof of successful two way contact with 100 of the league's recognized countries.  One of my first few posts in the blog history was about getting one of those pieces of wallpaper that I called my Lifetime Achievement Award in ham radio, proof of contact with (always referred to as "working") at least 100 recognized countries on five ham radio bands - what's called 5BDXCC.  Now, 13 years later, I've added another three bands up to 8BDXCC and I'm more than halfway to my ninth band. 

When you're striving for these awards for a certain number of confirmed contacts, whether SOTA, POTA, WAS, or whatever, you need to be aware of who's on the air and which entities you need.  A classic information problem.  Back in the second half of the 1970s when I was getting started, sometimes a group of guys would put up a 2m repeater and tell each other what they were hearing.  Broadcasting wouldn't be legal, so they wouldn't (usually!) say "Hey everybody, I hear Albania on 7.020 MHz CW, listening up 2;" they'd call each other and act like they were just keeping in touch.  More like, "W4ABC this is W4CDE.  I hear ZA1TTM on 7.020.  Do you hear him?" 

This was before home computers existed, well, maybe in the very earliest days of them, so no BBSes and decades before the Internet.  Now with the vast majority of us carrying a computer with us that would have been unimaginably powerful in the late '70s, it's natural to use them to our advantage.  The old standby that "the three most important things are to listen, listen and listen" is still there, but what if you didn't have do all that listening with your butt in your chair in front of the radio?  What if you could be notified that someone near you was hearing the station you'd like to work without actually having them call you on the phone, but send an alert to your phone?  Or what if you could pipe audio from your receiver to another place in the house?  That way, your butt only needs to be in that chair when you're trying to work that station. To take it a logical step farther, let's say you're trying for some particular state or other identifier that only happens rarely or that you've never heard.  You could turn the radio on but you could just be notified while you're doing some other thing that needs to be done.  Minimize your BIC (Butt In Chair) time in front of the radio.

Let me give an example that happened to me in the last week.  There's an application (also available as a website) called HamAlert.  Totally free to use.  HamAlert allows you to set various triggers that define when the program will send you a notice.  You can set it up to send a text message to your phone or the app itself on your phone.  The latest wallpaper I'm working toward is centered on the six meter ham band and the only trigger I've defined is for the last two states I need for WAS, Alaska and Hawaii.  The way the alert works is their software combs many of websites where this sort of contact gets reported, and you tell it what condition you want to be notified of when it happens.  In my case, I chose to be notified if anyone in Florida reports hearing either state. 

Screen capture of my only working trigger.

A week ago, while reading the Sunday comics online, I heard an unusual tone from my phone and when I looked down, I saw a report from HamAlert about a guy in Miami hearing Hawaii.  I don't have the specifics on the guy who reported it, but Miami is around 175 miles south of me.  It seemed unlikely I'd be able to hear the Hawaiian but I went back to the radio, turned it on and there he was.  He was using FT8 mode, which I use regularly, and while he wasn't the only station I heard on the band, there might have been two or three other stations I could hear, all in Florida.  I got the Hawaiian on my second or third call.  Today, I found that he confirmed by ARRL's online QSL method LOTW (Logbook Of The World).  I had sent him a paper card and Self Addressed Stamped Envelope last week. 

In my roughly 20 years playing on 6m, I've never even heard Hawaii, and I wouldn't have gone into the shack without that alert.  This is a multifaceted topic and far too much for a single blog post, so I plan to do "the next few" posts on quiet days on this subject.  I'm not extremely far down this road myself; I've done more in the last two months than before. 


  1. WOW! now that's what I call Commitment with a capital C.
    back in the '50s it was 100% BiC with the un-upholstered WWII earphones either squeezing your ears unmercifully or constantly falling down around your neck.

    1. I had headphones like that for years. Back then (late '60s-early '70s) people talked about cauliflower ears that wrestlers would get and I didn't know I could get it, but I also didn't know I couldn't. I was afraid of that.

  2. 49 states on 6M is quite an accomplishment!

    1. I've spoken with one or maybe two guys in Florida that have made 6m WAS, but it's very rare. I imagine just based on distances in typical openings that it's easier from the center of the country than from any of the corners.

      I think the FFMA, working all 488 grid squares in the lower 48 states, is more doable.

  3. Back in '67-'68 when I was a young warthog my brother and I used to play in the 2 meter band, since that's all the (MIL surplus) equipment we had. Tubes, y'know. See if'n ya has K74811 in your logbook. Spokane WA. All we had was a dipole 20' AGL in the back yard, no steering, what we got is what we got.
    Fun times!!

  4. I haven't played in the 6M range. My radios are packed up for a move in 3 weeks.