Promoting Amateur Radio

Last year I received approval for a 1×1 call sign to operate as, K6B to operate a special events station to celebrate 40 years of “contesting excellence” at the Northern California Contest Club. I also used this call sign for the California QSO Party in the beginning of October.

In 2009 on the QRZ Forums, I started a topic, ‘Putting a special events station on the air‘ which would help celebrate 40 years of “rapid transit” in the bay area. Of course, with many topic on QRZ it was met with very mixed reactions. My intentions were NOT to promote BART, as I am employed with, rather to celebrate the 40 years of service. In my opinion FCC Part 97.113 is a bit gray when it comes to this, so I have emailed an individual more experienced than myself to provide clarification.

I am piggybacking this potential operation with that of a proposed club station at BART. I know there are current and  former employees who are licensed amateurs, but I have no idea if this proposal has even been attempted in some 39 years of BART. From comments I gather, there are many amateurs who are into railspotting (rail-fanning, trainspotting, whatever you call it). I would think a club station could go very far in promoting the hobby.

While I have not moved forward on either of these plans, I am working on a proposal and looking for names on who to contact at BART to proceed with either or both of these. I have also started researching call signs for a club station and have a few in mind. While a physical station would not be used initially, we could use the call sign for possible events through out the year. One great example, Field Day, which is always a GOTA sort of event for non-hams. Hopefully I can move forward with these plans in the coming months.

Listen Live to BART

It’s amazing that in amateur radio our numbers are dwindling and the hobby is dying. This has been the cry for many year, more than I have directly been involved with and would not be surprised if my father heard similar when he was active back in the early 1980?s. I happen to run across this story, USA TODAY: Ham Radio Operators Concerned About Losing Band on Radio Reference yesterday.

You can read about the details about this bill as the one signed into legislation last month. I did not intend to go in depth into this story though. I was more after the use of Radio Reference. As described by the website itself, “RadioReference.com is the world’s largest radio communications data provider, featuring a complete frequency database, trunked radio system information, and FCC license data. RadioReference is also the largest broadcaster of public safety live audio communications feeds, hosting thousands of live audio broadcasts of Police, Fire, EMS, and other associated communication.”

While I was not surprised to find Bay Area Rapid Transit listed and available to listen to, it’s interesting to send people to this site to get a sense of what I do every day at work. Most of the times it’s routine work, answering a trains call for a route, having a train operator move their train manually or answering some type of patron request. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a listen this morning on the train to work. Makes for interesting listening when you don’t need to answer the calls you are hearing. Take a listen as there is always something going on at BART (Click on the speaker).

Learning: What works for you.

I don’t like to get caught up in arguments or debates, especially as it pertains to a hobby like amateur radio. Unfortunately individuals are unique and where opinions differ, disagreements arise.  I don’t profess to knowing EVERYTHING about amateur radio, I don’t intend to. This hobby can pull individuals in so many different directions, you are bound to find a are that is of interest.

In the past I have spent many hours logged on to amateur radio forums and it never ceases to amaze the degree of hardheadedness that occurs if your opinions varies from that of another. In 2007, the FCC eliminated the five words-per-minute Morse code examination and went to a 3-tier licensing system; Technician, General, Amateur Extra.

I’ll admit that learning Morse code was a stumbling block that had to be overcome when I was originally license in 1990. I bought cassette tapes from Radio Shack and attempted to learn code, unfortunately I did not dedicate time every day to learning. It wasn’t until this new rule went into effect that I upgraded to General and then to Amateur Extra, known by some in our hobby as a “no code Extra” as opposed to a “know code Extra.”

I did take it upon myself to use and learn Morse code after I upgraded to Amateur Extra. Even now I don’t use it in the conventional manner many dedicated CW operators do, but I do use the mode and thoroughly enjoy it. When it comes to learning Morse code opinions vary on how to learn. There are many online programs and methods on learning to use CW. I am of the opinion, use what works for you.

Many individuals try to push “their way” as the best way when it comes to learning, but if their way of learning isn’t working, logic would say to find another way that allows you to learn and progress. Yet read many amateur radio forums and there are thread upon thread and post after post that will contradict what the previous just said.

I approached amateur radio with the thought of, “the Amateur Extra is a lifetime license to learn.” I can’t say everyone will agree with that opinion, as the ham operator has moved from being a tinkerer or experimenter to an appliance operator. I will label myself somewhere in between, but probably learning a bit more to the appliance operator side than that of the experimenter. So while I didn’t need to learn to use CW, I did.

When I decided to undertake this task, I did not want to worry about having to pass more FCC exams, so I learned to use CW after I being an Amateur Extra. When I did start to learn I used a number of different programs, you can read about those on my CW page. I also decided to purchase MRP40, which I used (and still use now) as a tool when operating CW. Now the purist will say I am now a CW operator, but I am using the mode and enjoy the mode.This isn’t for everyone, especially those who took the time to learn and the mode, participating in the FCC exams to “earn” as some would term it, their General and Amateur Extra licenses. But for a new ham or someone who wants to use the mode, I think this is a great tool to assist you in learning and using the mode.

I have written about this before, in a topic titled, Why do you care? last March, which addressed this same issue. While we are all amateur operators, I see no need to label operators because of what they know or don’t or how they operate. Accept them and their approach to the hobby and if you don’t agree, then move along.Amateur radio is a great hobby! I have been thankful for being introduced to the hobby early in my childhood and while I was not pushed into the hobby or forced to learn Morse code. I am pleased with my operating habits and what I have learned over the years. Among the contest club I belong to, the NCCC, there is amazing wealth of knowledge, as well as some world class contesters and stations available.

The 6th Thought: Let it Go!

I don’t think a day ever passes that somebody does not take a cheap shot at another in a hobby related Internet forum. I am sure I can call myself on this in years past supporting a game I helped in developing since I was the big, bad “Forum Nazi” and rather quick to bring the hammer down on threads and forum goers. Personally, I saw nothing wrong with removing or editing questionable content or applying a ban to an individual for questionable actions.

Actions like this of a moderator are usually met in protest with shouts of “freedom of speech” and being able to express their thoughts without any sort of repercussion. I must disagree, if you participate in a forum, you have no rights to act like a complete ass and ignore guidelines set in place.

I am moving away from my original point, that is the fact that it’s amazing to see amateur radio operators taking shots at each other continuously. One of those “hot button” topics is contesting. There seems to be no middle ground, you either like it or hate it. There is a subculture to contesting, those who participate in CW as opposed to SSB. Guess there is something special being a CW contester as opposed to a SSB contester, still haven’t figured that one out.

I just find the animosity difficult to swallow on a daily basis. Right now, some might be thinking, “If you don’t like it, don’t read the forums.” You are exactly right! There are those ridiculous topics I usually end up avoiding because they don’t provide any useful information and nothing is ever resolved.

As I mentioned I am sure every hobby is similar in this way, sure we are licensed by the FCC, but we must govern ourselves. I am still appalled at the attitudes of some amateurs who feel they are high and mighty and above everyone else. Conversely, there are some real great individuals who always prove timely and sensible information relevant to any discussion. For those individuals I thank them.

Of course my complaining about it is no better than those partaking in these arguments, but why these ongoing arguments continue on a weekly (monthly) basis is just mind boggling.

FCC Enforcement?

The latest edition of CQ magazine is “calling on FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Kris Monteith to move swiftly to name a successor to Riley Hollingsworth, K4ZDH, as Special Counsel for Amateur Radio, and to bring FCC enforcement back to the ham bands.” Rick Moseson, W2VU, in his “Zero Bias” column says, “noted that the Commission not only has failed to name a successor to Hollingsworth, but that not a single amateur enforcement action has been taken since his retirement this past July.” The article goes on to discuss failures by the FCC, you can read the article at CQ.

While this is bothersome, what is more bothersome can be read on QRZ.com. AA7BQ posted under Ham Radio News, “CQ Magazine Calls on FCC to Resume Amateur Enforcement“. I am somewhat appalled at the number of hams (not surprisingly) on QRZ that continue to turn any topic into a “code versus no code” debate. If that is not enough, the “chicken banders” are then drawn into the controversy.

I’ll be the first to admit I have only been around ham radio as a licensed operator since 1995, I was licensed in Texas as KC5NWR, when code was still a requirement, but not a testing procedure for the Technician. In January, 2007 the FCC dropped the Morse Code requirement and thus divided the hobby into two groups, beginning the controversy.

I have never been to an FCC field official, nor have I taken an exam in front of an FCC official. I did not have to listen to CW being sent at 5, 13 or 20 WPM in order to achieve (yes, it WAS an achievement) my Amateur Exam Class License. I studied. I learned. I asked questions in order to pass the General and Extra exams. Yet, some continue to believe I and many like me are not hams because we did not take the CW exam.

It’s a very sad state of affairs in a hobby when the hobbyists turn on each other and not join together in hopes to resolve the problem at hand. While number of new hams continue to dwindle, the naysayers are preaching impending doom and the the truth is there could be less regulation (deregulation?) in the near future for ham radio.

The jury is still out as to what the end result will be. With a new Presidential Administration comes new promises. Now it’s time to follow through on those promises. Hopefully FCC enforcement is an important issue, with the many other problems we face. Who knows, maybe 2009 will bring a new “sheriff.”