On Thursday evening I went along to Shefford & District Amateur Radio Society where Tim Kirby G4VXE was giving a talk on My World of VHF. Tim writes the regular World of VHF page in the ever popular Practical Wireless magazine.
To be honest he was preaching to the converted with me although I’m not sure I should be surprised when he asked the audience how many used only HF, the majority put their hands up. From some of the conversations I had with other attendees before and after, many viewed operation on 2m repeaters as nothing more than glorified CB radio (in fact they seemed to view VHF as that in general).
I could see attitudes were going to be hard to change. Tim started with the 6m (50Mhz) allocation and went through its peculiarities, including the effects of meteor scatter on these frequencies. Most amateurs these days have access to “Six” as it is often included with newer HF rigs (If they have a HF rig that is!)
Six has always held a fascination for me and its a band that I have yet to operate on. Tim then moved onto the 4m (70Mhz) allocation and gave a good representation of how the band performs and the equipment used. 4m suffers from a lack of commercially made equipment with most being limited to Chinese hand-held radios with inefficient antennas or multi mode transverters (more on the latter later!). 4m despite being a small band is gaining in popularity and is slowly spreading around the globe. Tim explained that one station in the United States has obtained a licence to operate a beacon on the band.
It then came to 2 metres, probably one of the most diverse VHF bands for operating modes and interests. 2m is a primary allocation in Amateur radio so the band should be core to operating on Amateur Radio. Tim covered everything from operating on SSB to FM, through EME (Earth-Moon-Earth) and how that had now progressed to using digi modes. Following how meteor scatter affects the band it was then the turn of satellite operation (something that I’m really interested in).
At this point Tim used a photo of Peter Goodhall 2E0SQL using a dual band hand held (2/70) and a hand held crossed element beam whilst accessing satellites (birds as they are known in the States!). This is the great thing about Amateur Radio, with a little thought you do not have to spend a lot of money nor use a lot of operating power to get great results.
As well as satellites there is the International Space Station (ISS) which has Amateur Radio equipment fitted, you can send packet data via the digi repeater on the ISS as it passes overhead. Less often when a suitably qualified Astronaut/Cosmonaut is aboard two way phone contact on FM is possible, although when this occurs it does tend to get rather busy..
Tim then went onto the use of Echolink (analogue) and D-Star (Digital), a lot of people will dismiss these as “not being real amateur radio” the idea that both use the internet (VOIP – Voice Over Internet Protocol) is somehow abhorrent to those who maybe spend their time on HF only but this misses the point. I can be mobile or using a hand held radio and talk through a repeater and make contact with my brother using his hand held in Adelaide in Australia whilst he walks his dogs. Also with APRS you can now link your radio via the internet to show location via GPS and or take part in the CWOPS weather station programme. Your can see APRS activity including D-Star (those who have a GPS capability) on http://aprs.fi/
In the United States most D-Star repeaters are linked by a microwave link in case the internet fails during a major emergency. During the recent Tropical Storm that hit hit most of the east coast the MARS network was in operation on Amateur Radio but in particular on D-Star.
Digital isn’t about buying an expensive radio off the shelf, in fact some repeater keepers are now building back up systems based on old PMR radios, how long is it before someone does the same and home brews a D-star transceiver? Its not as difficult as it may seem.
Finally Tim covered the 70cm band, depending where you may live in the UK, 70 is either hardly used or has very vibrant use. . But the band has the same following on everything I have mentioned with 2 meters.
Did the talk change attitudes? I’m not sure because some views are pretty entrenched, at end of the day Amateur Radio is what you make of it. The spectrum to use is wide so go out and explore.
Thanks for Tim for the talk and Ken Amos G4YRF (chairman of S&DARS) for making me welcome at the club.
The club website can be found at www.sadars.co.uk