Contributing to the Art of Amateur Radio

Most of us start off as a lone amateur radio, or ham radio, operator. I did. I studied the book, took the test, and earned my Technician license by myself all while not knowing anyone from our community. Afterwards, I tried to learn as much as possible on my own because I was excited, but eventually, you have to reach out to others individually or to a group to learn more. There is just too much learn individually, and we have to be shown how to do something, such as soldering as an example.

If you just “click” with amateur radio, you wonder how to help it grow. Many of us start as ham radio evangelist, but as the questions from others get harder, and the new wears off, some fall away, some grow stronger. I hope that I can consider myself one that has grown stronger. If you do also, I want to present some ideas to help grow our hobby.

Get involved

First, get involved with your local club to start. Build those relationships with others of common interest. You have to start somewhere, and being around other Hams is the way you start and keep your interest. Learn as much as you can. It is fun to learn new things, new skills, or new operating methods. You may even find others that want to help you upgrade your license.

Serve Your Community

Just how does ham radio serve the community? It is just a hobby, a technical hobby, but still a hobby. Amateur radio has uses outside of our own walls. We as ham know about the ways to contribute to the community. Outside of our ham community, many do not know that amateur radio has many, many uses to serve the community. Living in Tornado Alley, one of the huge ways we serve the community is through RACES. RACES is an acronym for Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, which is an emergency communications tool used by majority, if not most, of the cities, towns, counties, states, and the US Government. If a city’s communications system goes down due to a tornado or other disaster, we have been called upon time and time again to provide official communications for emergency coordinators everywhere.

My club has a very tight relationship with the City. We are a recognized group by the City as being available to pass disaster information when called on. We provide emergency communications, and the City provides a means for us to have high and far reaching equipment.

Serve an Event

Many, if not most, events such as bike races, NASCAR races, marathons, etc., have amateur radio operators hidden in the background providing all the communications abilities. These are an amazing resource to teach yourself proper operating technique for those RACES nets that come up. These are also just fun to participate in too.

Join the ARRL

One of the most important organizations in amateur radio is the ARRL. The American Radio Relay League is the largest organization for amateur radio. We occupy some very VERY valuable RF spectrum, and it is always under threat. If this spectrum had a price tag, it could easily be in the billions of dollars. One of the main goals of the ARRL is spectrum defense. They also promote education and so much more.

Serve Your Club

You have joined the club and hopefully you enjoy it. I would encourage you to serve your local club. It is an incredible experience. I have had the pleasure of serving as president of my club here in Hurst, TX. It is a tough job, but a very rewarding one. Finding the strengths of people on your team is difficult, many will step up to help advance the clubs goals. If you do end up as president, be prepared for a lot of work, especially the first six months. You will find your rhythm and the pressure of running the business of the club will become more routine. Making sure you have a vice president that you trust is also a benefit too.

There will be things that you are called to do, so surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, and can rely on to help you accomplish club goals, and you will be fine.

Conclusion

These are just a few ideas I came up with to help with contributing and growing our hobby. We continue to grow in numbers, but when you are ready to take that role of contributor and no just being a consumer, find a way to do it. Find your niche and run with it. If you are strong in designing and building antennas, teach a class. I hope you will do it, it will be very rewarding.

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Are Radio Manufacturers Trying to Kill Off Digital?

First things first, let me say thank you to the Chinese vendors out there. Why in the world would I ever say that? In 1999, I bought my first mobile radio for about $200, which is not bad. I bought my first handy talky for $250 and it was a single band, 2 watt transmit, and only 10 memories. That was considered the El Cheapo model and it was still $250.

Skip ahead 17 years, and manufactures like Baofeng, TYT, and Wouxun all have good little HT’s, like them or not, for $40-$100 and do so much more. The closest thing I can find from Yaesu is $160. Yaesu’s are not throw away radios, but the Chinese radios have gotten to that point also. My UV-5R is now 2.5 years old, recently took a swim in the dogs water bucket, and still works like day one.

Why do I think the big Amateur radio manufactures either just do not get it, or they deliberately price their digital technology stupid high?

Let me start back when I was first introduced to digital radio. Right after I joined the HurstARC as a new member, the president at the time was pushing hard for Yaesu’s Fusion. I can not really blame him since they offered a 50w digital repeater for $500. That is a heck of a price. I knew of DSTAR, but Fusion seemed to be the future, since it was the new guy in town, and so I invested in two, that is TWO, Fusion FTM-400DR radios. Those two radios were priced at $600 each. My best friend bought two also, plus a DR2 Fusion HT for $600 also, and so many others the same.

It looked like Fusion was going to take off. I was wrong. They released their equipment, very handicapped equipment let me say. The features they promised just was not there, and would not even appear on the market for another year-and-a-half, and when they did, it just was not up to snuff. Now Yaesu did release a couple of cheaper Fusion radios, one was under $200, but it was for the 2m band only. Around DFW, most digital communications are on 70cm.

DSTAR has been around for a long time, has a pretty decent infrastructure system still, and the basic mobile radios only start at $300 and the HT’s start at $400 [11/11/16]. I am not made of money, as with many, and $300 is still a lot of money. Yes I did buy TWO $600 radios, and now regret it, but that does not mean that money flows freely in Cotterville.

Kenwood recently announced and released the TM-D74A. This is a beautiful radio. I had the chance to play with one in person. It is FM and incorporates DV (digital voice) with DSTAR, for whatever their reasoning is. Kenwood quality is there for the low low price of $650. That price tag will keep 99% of those wanting DV away.

Why did I start with complimenting the Chinese radio makers? Now that I have bought into Fusion and regret it (one of the radios being broken somehow), I also have an amazing performing Tytera MD380, DMR HT. How much did this HT cost me? $120, price has dropped to around $95 now I have heard. I was happy to lay down $120 for a Chinese made, but great, radio. If I ended up not liking DV, I could throw this in a box and not feel bad about it at that price point.

The big manufacturers basically make you gamble on their DV products, all or nothing, whether it will stick around or anyone will even care about it. DSTAR has been around for a long time and has a decent, but not-really growing user base. Fusion has a user base, and from what I have been able to see, not growing, possibly even declining user base.

This post is not an pro-DMR, anti-Fusion, anti-DSTAR post. It is my ranting about these manufactures making great equipment, but then pricing so high, that general digital adoption from hams just will not happen. I think that is where the Chinese radio makers will end up dominating. When DMR first started up in amateur radio, you had pretty much one or two choices, Motorola or Hytera. Both companies make excellent equipment, then sell it for $750+ for an HT and mobiles, very basic mobiles, started at $600.

Connect Systems (American company, Chinese maker) released a DMR mobile for $279 and their HT for $229. Tytera released their MD-380 for $179 originally, now down to about $100, and they are selling them so fast many dealers can not keep them in stock.

Other than it is just plain fun, I am convinced that the reason DMR has taken off like it has (4,600 new users/ID’s in two months) in the past two years, is because people are willing to spend $100-200 and see what DV is all about. The big four manufactures just keep hammering nails into their own feet, thinking they are doing us a favor, but in reality, they are holding amateur radio back from moving on to the next generation of operating.

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Embracing the Open Source Lifestyle in Amateur Radio

I have been a Linux user and fan for approximately fourteen years. Not quite as long as being radio operator. I do believe in the open source way and that flows into my radio life also. I got into DMR about six month ago. I LOVE it. It is growing as more-and-more ham embrace and learn about it. It is great.

Fusion is OK. I think Yaesu screwed the pooch on the delivery of their promises, but it exist, and I also think that most of those that bought into C4FM Fusion, have already bought into it due to cost. The technology is solid, but very expensive. I have been trying to find out for a while if it is truly an open standard or if it is a licensed technology if you want to develop hardware for it. Turns out it is a licensed technology. I have a feeling that it will go along the path of D-STAR where it is there, but it is not extensively used. [My opinion anyways]

Getting back to DMR, I have been trying to do my part in getting new users involved and help them get setup. Whether my efforts contribute or not, I do not know, but from January 15th – 30th, 2016, about 1600 new subscriber ID’s came online. That is some rapid growth. Each month, I publish a new codeplug for both the Tytera MD-380 and the Connect Systems CS800. Where am I going with this rambling? I have spent hours and hours [and hours] creating codeplugs for both of these radio models, and freely share them with anyone that wants to use them. All you have to enter your callsign and subscriber ID into the codeplug using the software provided.

The Tytera is a simple little radio that does not take much effort to modify the codeplug now that it is built and clean. On my file share, you can find the codeplug, ContactManager.exe, the illusive manual and the latest firmware.

The CS800 is quite a bit more complex and has a much more complex codeplug. It has been built out completely and updated regularly. All you have to do is enter in your callsign and subscriber ID into the codeplug using the software before uploading into your radio.

What does this have to do with open source now that I have said this. I have built these codeplugs and share them with you to use and change if you want. If you change them and feel like sharing back, feel free to let me know. I am open to sharing all of my codeplugs.

All of the files I modify and upload can be found here:

https://kd5hiy.us/operating/dmr/

If you want to use the CS800 codeplug, PLEASE read the README file to know what you are getting. The Tytera MD380 codeplug is simple enough. Both have the repeaters for DFW, OKC, TUL, and LIT written in.

Enjoy and I hope to hear you on the air sometime.

Chris, KD5HIY

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