NPOTA – First Pile Up

NPOTA as most reading this will know by now, stands for National Park On The Air. It is an ARRl year long event helping the National Park Service celebrate their 100th anniversary. It operates a lot like SOTA in that there are activators and chasers. I was able to participate last Saturday as an activator when I visited some other hams that had setup at the Pea Ridge National Military Park for an activation.


The battle at Pea Ridge was a pivotal Civil War battle that took place March 7-8 1862. The battlefield was spread across 4,300 acres where 26,000 soldiers fought. Today it is still one of the most intact remaining battlefields from the Civil War left in the United States. If you are a history buff and would like more information about the park, you can visit the website.  Here is the wikipedia page about the battle.


The radio setup consisted of a Yaseu FT-450, a Carolina Windom antenna, and laptop all being powered by a small generator. The team made over 400 contacts for the day. We worked stations fairly constantly most of the day.

I watched the operators for a little while, then jumped in to log for the operator working the radio. After a while they asked me to take the microphone. This was my fist time on the receiving end of a pile up. Someone had spotted us and there were a lot of people all at once trying to contact us. I got flustered and made a lot of mistakes. After a bit, I turned the microphone over to Don, K5DB who was a lot more experienced at working this style of operation. He has been doing NPOTA all year. I went back to login but watching and listening to Don work the pileup, trying to learn. After a while I got back on the mic and tried again. I simply tried to emulate what Don did. I actually was better at it the second time. When I called QRZ or CQ, I would write down 2-4 partial callsigns or even a complete call, as I was able. Then I worked down that small list, calling for the partials. Don got it across to me that I needed to control the pileup. Ask for specific partials, ignore the ones that don’t match that are just trying to barge their way in. I was in charge! I say that not as a control freak but as someone who learned a lot this weekend, working his first pileup.

A few tips for anyone who tackles a NPOTA pileup for the first time. The more experienced ops already know this!

  1. It’s not a real contest, it’s NPOTA. So relax!
  2. If you have someone logging for you, you should have paper & pencil for notes, partial callsigns as you operate. I can’t speak to doing this by yourself as I have not done that yet.
  3. Call the stations you hear, calling back partials as needed.
  4. Don’t let bully stations barge in when you are calling a specific station. Ignore them.
  5. Maintain control of the pileup! You are the boss for the moment.
  6. You can only work one station at a time. You will get to most of them in time.
  7. You will make mistakes the first time, just deal with it a move on.
  8. Relax! it’s not a real contest!

I definitely need to get out and operate more in this the of situation.

73 and good luck!


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Backup Your Shack PC

We recently passed World Backup Day on March 31st. These days there seems to be a day for everything, important or not. Backing up your computer data is more important than a lot of people think. I don’t know how many times someone has brought me their computer asking for help when they can’t access something on it. My first question is usually “Do you have a backup?”  And the response is more often than not “No! That’s why I need help”. Occasionally I am able to save their data but if their disk drive is too far gone, then it’s lost.

Consider what’s on your computer. I have years and years of digital photos, purchased music files, and a lot of important documents. That doesn’t even begin to cover my ham radio related data. The important things as far as I am concerned that I would rather not lose are my logs, LOTW TQSL certificate files, data files for programming my radios and other data files like antenna plans and such.

Ask yourself this question . . . “Can I get all that stuff back if something terrible happens to my computer and the data is no longer accessible?”

You should be able to answer “Yes, I can!”

I am not going to go into all the possible ways to backup your data. There are USB drives, thumb drives, online services or you can build a home backup server. This article isn’t going to review all those possibilities and I am sure there is some method I left out of this short list.

Consider the 3-2-1 backup rule.  The 3-2-1 strategy means having at least 3 copies of your data, 2 of which are on different mediums (i.e.: devices) and at least 1 copy off site. The key to this, is that all 3 copies need to be reasonably up to date. Having the offsite copy too old doesn’t do much good if that’s the one you need to use for a restore.

For my home computers, I use a network drive and an online service. So I have my original copy, my onsite network drive copy, and the offsite online service as my third copy.  You don’t have to use an online service. I just like the automatic online, offsite backup.

Another important thing to consider, is the restore itself. Your backup is only as good as your ability to restore it. Occasionally restoring a specific file is a nice test. Backing things up in some super-duper format isn’t any good if it’s too difficult to restore.  Also think about how you would restore the operating system and not just your data. You likely don’t need to backup the operating system as most people have restore disks that shipped with their computer or some other install method for the OS.

So, please think about what and how you backup your data. Can you restore it? Do you have an offsite copy? What if I lose my main hard rive and it’s contents?

While those are not nice thoughts, it’s better to be prepared than not . . . . And it seems like a lot of the Ham Radio hobby/service is about being prepared in one form or another.

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Learning CW – The Beginning

I have decided to learn CW. Why? Because I want to, not because I have to.  Yes I am one of those no-code hams!

Most of this blog post is aimed at newer hams. If someone is thinking about trying to learn CW, I hope this post might help motivate them to go for it and give it a try.

Since I became a more active ham a couple years ago, from a non-active ham, I have thought it would be nice to have a very small portable battery powered radio, and easy & quick to deploy antenna and make some QSO’s when and where I can.

The next question, once I decided to learn CW, was how to learn CW? I know in the past, people used to use cassette tapes, learning at 5 wpm (words per minute). I looked online and found that the “tapes” can still be purchased, but now they are on CD instead of tapes. From the reviews that I have read, the content has not been updated but simply copied on to CD format. So it’s the same lessons that existed in the 60’s, 70’s, 80, etc, just in a little newer delivery format. My goal isn’t 5 wpm. It’s higher. More like the 20 wpm range someday. That then leads to some “newer” methods of learning. The “Koch” method is very popular. It starts with two characters, sent at 20 wpm but with more space between the characters, making the effective overall speed slower but still with faster character speed. The key is learning characters at a faster speed, introducing another letter when you learn the first two. You keep adding letters until you eventually have them all learned. There are many web sites and programs that use this and other methods. There are also a lot of phone apps that people use to learn. A friend of mine learned CW using these apps, and I sat with him on Field Day in 2013 as he worked without a microphone, only CW. He didn’t even bring his microphone to Field Day! He now works CW almost exclusively.

2016-02-15 17.54.27

After further research I came across The CW Operators Club web page,  I found that they have a CW Academy with 3 different levels. Level I is for beginners with no CW experience and Levels II & III are more advanced working on increasing speed and other things. I decided to enroll in their Level I beginner class. I signed up on their web site and weeks later, I was confined for the Level I class that started in January ’16, a few weeks ago. I am now 5 weeks through an 8 week class. The class meets twice a week, using Skype. There are five students in my class, which is lead by an experienced instructor. Homework consists of using a web based CW training program, for receiving practice. Assuming you have a key/paddle or something to send with, there are sending exercises as well.  The curriculum introduces the letters, much like the Koch method, at a 20 wpm pace, but in a different order than the standard Koch trainers. The first session consisted of four letters, and words using those four letters. If you would like more information their web site is:

Is it working? So far it is working. Five weeks into the class, I now know the whole alphabet, the numbers 0-9 and a few punctuation characters. I say “know” them, but I am not very good at receiving yet. I miss a lot of characters when I try to listen so a real QSO on the air. Like learning anything like another language, it’s going to take some practice to get better at listening in real time. I have recorded a couple QSO’s from a station and when I repeat it multiple times, I can figure it all out. Considering 5 weeks ago I didn’t know a single letter, I am making progress.

I’ll continue attending class, and practicing. I’ll post again later when I make some more progress and someday pretty soon, I’ll get in the air and attempt a real QSO!

Until then    – – . . .   . . . – –

PS   “- – . . .   . . . – -”  is morse code for “73” in case you wondered!


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End Fed Antenna 40-6m

After some research on the Internet, I decided to build another antenna. I figure one can’t have too many antennas and this one would be a quick build. I chose the earchi 40-6m End Fed matchbox. The plans for it are available on the Emergency Amateur Radio Club of Hawaii’s web site. It’s an easy build and from what I have read on the ‘Net about it, it said to work well.

A trip to Radio Shack and Lowe’s provided all the components except for the torrid cores which I had to order online. The first picture is the wound core.

The second picture is the completed matchbox.

The connections are very straight forward is you follow the instructions to the letter.  I cut a 30 ft piece of wire and crimped/soldered a ring terminal to the end of it. According to my research, various people use various lengths of wire with this. I chose 30 ft as that’s is what the club supplies if you purchase a completely built antenna from them.

I though this antenna would be an quick and easy one to deploy in the field if needed.

I have used this antenna a few times. The first time was in June during Field Day. I had my homemade Buddistick in use, and decided to take a break and put this antenna up. I threw some paracord over a branch and hauled up the wire. It worked great, about the same as the Buddistick in terms of signals heard. I have also used it at home a couple times with similar results. It is going to be a nice antenna to have in the kit for certain situations. 


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2015 Field Day

I was able to get out and participate in local Field Day activities with my club, the Benton County Radio Operators. We were out at a private facility out in the country, and ran off of battery and generator power for the event. I worked PSK31 on 20 meters alternating with another club member all day on Saturday. This was the first time I have had my entire station out in the field since building my box. I was also able to use one of my homemade antennas. The chosen antenna for the day was my homemade Buddistick configured for 20 meters. The painters pole holding up the antenna was guyed using parachute cord and three cement blocks as the anchors. The setup was easy to put up and take down and worked well. Since this is the same station and antenna I also use at home, there was really nothing new to try out, so it all had been thoroughly tested before Field Day.

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JT65 – A new mode for me!

A few weeks ago, I decided to try JT65. I had been working a small amount of phone this year, along with a little PSK31. I liked PSK31 because I could watch a football game and work the quiet digital mode at the same time. I was curious about JT65 a few weeks ago, so I downloaded some software and decided to give it a try.

I’ll leave out all the history of the mode as it’s easy to find on the net. Basically it’s a digital mode, that’s great for low power operation. Originally developed for EME (Earth-Moon-Earth, Moon bounce) application, it’s very common to use 5-10 watts making contacts all over the world, depending on the condition of the bands. Information is sent over and over again to provide redundancy

JT65 is not a mode that anyone os going to rag chew on. The messages that are exchanged are very scripted and only 13 characters in length. I wondered for a while what practical use a series of 13 character messages would be, outside of making contacts simply for earning awards. I suppose you could use it when a short message has to absolutely get through. The software will repeat the message over and over again until you tell it to stop.

While there are a few software packages available for JT65, I chose to use WSJT-X. Another popular program that’s available is JT65-HF. WSJT-X will do both JT65 and JT9 but JT65-HF will only do JT65. I am finding that making JT9 contacts, works just like JT65, though the underlying protocols being sent over the air are different. JT9 uses much less bandwidth, and signals can be much closer together than JT65.

Messages are transmitted on alternating minutes. One station might call CQ. That message is sent for 46.8 seconds. There is a 13.2 second decoding period. The reply transmission is sent starting at the beginning of the next minute for the same 46.8 seconds. Again there is a 13.2 second decoding period and it all starts over again. One station ends up transmitting on the odd minutes, while the other station transmits on the even minutes.  A normal JT65 QSO will last 7 minutes. The CQ station sends four messages while the station answering the CQ will send 3. Some stations that call CQ cut out of the messages making for a total of three sent for each station.

The following is an actual QSO that I had with a station in Italy, using 10 watts and a homemade buddipole.


The Italian station called CQ and I answered at 1453 UTC time. The entire QSO was over after both of us sent 73 messages!  This is what almost all QSO’s are like.

Since I started JT65 in the middle of December, I have made 108 JT65 QSO’s and 19 JT9 QSO’s. I am slowly working on my basic WAS, trying to get most of the rest with JT65 or JT9. As of Dec 26, I only need 3 more states and I am determined to do it with JT65!

The following are some learning experiences and things I would pass on to anyone interested in trying JT65 for the first time.

While there might be other software packages, JT65-HF an WSJT-X seem to the be the two most popular, based on my reading on the Net and forum posts on and  I would suggest downloading both and giving them a trial run before deciding. Regardless of which one you choose, I would highly suggest adding JTAlert. It’s a program that works with WSJT-X or JT65-HF alerting you to things like DXCC entities you need, states needed or WAS, stations you have worked before and many other things. I think it makes the mode more fun.

While PSK31 is a SSB mode, JT65 is not. It is an AFSK mode so you have to make sure you set your radio appropriately. Some articles don’t seem to mention this so some beginners miss this point. It does use USB like PSK31, but the modulation is different and the radio needs to be set properly.

I also ran into a configuration issue when setting up my Signalink USB for JT65. While working stations, I occasionally ran into an issue where the radio would key up and transmit, but nothing was sent out. No power on the power meter, nothing.  I had set up the software to control my radio via CAT control.  I found, after a lot of research, that my software was sending a PTT to the radio as was the Signaling USB. I suspect that when the software PTT got there first, that’s when the issue would happen. I set the software to VOX, letting the Signalink send the PTT and everything has been fine ever since. was a helpful resource to see if I was getting a signal out.

In the end, I am finding JT65 very enjoyable. It’s quiet so it does not bother my wonderful XYL. I can also do other things and not give the radio 100% attention. With JTAlert, it will tell me when someone is calling CQ or a needed state or country poops up. If you have not tried JT65 out, give it a shot and you might find fun.

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Big Soldering Irons & PL259’s

Like a lot of newer, more inexperienced hams, I have had a fair amount of trouble soldering PL259 connectors to coax. In my previous posts, about my portable station, I need some small coax jumpers to bring the antenna connectors down to the lower front of the box. That portion is not show in my posts yet, as I’ll write about that later when it’s done. I tried my 40 watt Weller thinking it would work, but it didn’t hold enough heat. I have come to realize that PL259’s are big heat sinks. They drain heat from the soldering iron tip, so you need something that can hold a lot of heat. Namely a larger tip on the iron.

In the above picture, are my three soldering irons. The center one is a 25 watt model. It has a pencil type tip. No good for PL259’s but it’s good for other things. The bottom one is a 40 watt model with a small chisel tip. While the tip is larger, it’s still much too small. I know on ham forums on the Internet, there will be someone who will claim they can use this iron and successfully put on a PL259, but for most of us mere mortals, it’s not what we need for the job.

The upper iron in the picture is my new soldering iron. It’s a Weller SP120. It’s 120 watts with a huge tip as soldering irons go. I was able to put two PL259’s on and make a jumper cable in about 10 minutes. Most of that time was spent stripping the coax carefully with my x-acto knife. The right tools are sometimes needed and for me and soldering PL259’s, the right tool is a nice larger soldering iron!


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