RaDAR POTA and SOTA news

Protecting the equipment from the rain

Conditions on HF have not been good for quite some time now. If you’ve ever played with WSPR your signals may be heard worldwide even with conditions as they are but WSPR is not a QSO and doubtfully would be quite as successful if a SSB or CW QSO was taken into account. I think of it much like that as heard during meteor scatter pings.

So I proposed a QRP beacon on 40m to alert human communicators to possible NVIS (Local communications) openings. Calling CQ for hours on end running QRP delivered few results even after alerting other operators to the fact via our WhatsApp groups. It becomes quite demoralising!

Let’s face it, QRP stands no chance when even a 100 Watts get’s you nowhere and on occasions even a few hundred Watts!

The proposal for “another” beacon on 40m was met with mixed results and I know the politics on this. The belief is that the beacons could, and probably do, interfere with rare DX opportunities even when the beacon uses a mere 200 Hz within a few tens of kilohertz bandwidth. There are also no official beacon frequencies that I know of for 40m?

Some found value with the proposal during the past weekend of tests where it was started on the Saturday morning and stopped on the Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, some time during the day on Sunday, one of the two 7A/Hr SLABS in parallel went short circuit limiting the voltage to 6.8 volts. On fault determination it was cut away and normal recharging of the second battery was successful. This was an eye opener, I’d never seen this happen before with a SLAB!

A YouKIts HB1A was used as a transmitter on 7.037 MHz pushing around 3W. The predefined keying sequence was done using a programmed Arduino NANO driving a relay board to generate morse code sending “ZS6BNE KG34AC PWR 3W” at around 16 w.p.m. It was just a matter of wiring the relay contacts to the key input of the HB1A through a 3.5mm jack. The Arduino performed pretty well and was still operational even at 6.8 v supply through a dedicated voltage regulator regulating a 5 v supply.

The antenna was a linked dipole in inverted vee form held at around 4.5 m at the apex by a dual back to back painters pole mast. The beacon performed relatively well but more human reports are required to prove it’s viability which was not quite as forthcoming as one would expect. Nothing was heard from the RBN (Reverse Beacon Network) proving DX conditions to be as bad!

The beacon was heard by Dennis ZS4BS in Bloemfontein but the signal was rather weak. Other reports received via WhatsApp were as follows:

Werner in Namibia – “Hearing CW”.

Andy ZS6ADY – “Sig about 449 with qrn…”

Jannie ZS3CM – “Morning Eddie. Can still hear beacon in De Aar. Same as yesterday. Clouds building again. Looks like more rain!!!!!!!!!”

Jannie sent a recording and the signal in my opinion was rather good!

Mike ZS6MSW/p (Natal) – “Moving camp on Wednesday to Northern Berg, hopefully RST noise will be less than 9 plus. THAT beacon was a tremendous assistance to guage our conditions. 73’s”

Eric ZS5EL – “Nothing on 7037 here this morning, I’ll keep monitoring”

The battery failure occured some time on the Sunday.

Eddie ZS6BNE – “Sunday 3rd Februrary 14:15 – Shutting down the beacon.

Thank you for your input …..”


RaDAR POTA and SOTA news

The view from Johnathan ZS1ARB’s “Shack”

Yesterday I made a little history.

I had a SOTA contact with Johnathan ZS1ARB operating from the Western Cape on 20m. All my SOTA chasing to date has been on 40m, mostly SSB.

I used my Xiegu X5105 running 5W into a 40m/20m delta loop set up in the field a few meters from home.

ZS6BNE’s “Shack”

The sked frequency was 14.300 but I had a carrier there. I could get the message through to go down five where we had a successful QSO on 14.295 MHz SSB.

This made my weekend and Johnathan easily made the required number of QSO’s for activation.

POTA / SOTA and RaDAR News

My grandson Eduan on Table mountain a few years back

Brian ZS6BV activated ZS/LP-083 just before Christmas. He’s one of the regular SOTA activators in ZS. What made this particular activation rather special is that he made contact with Eddie ZS6BNE using CW. It happened to be Brian’s second on air CW QSO and Eddie’s first CW QSO with a SOTA station during the past twelve months!

Two other activators for December just before the New Year were Graham ZR6GHK and Karin ZR6KAR who activated ZS/MP-061. Graham is also able to do CW and is looking forward to SOTA contacts using this mode.

I did some retail price enquiries on the really bare minimum amateur radio rigs, in particular the latest version of the very popular FT817ND, the FT-818ND. The VAT inclusive price – a cool sixteen and a half grand! Imagine the really cool top of the range smartphone you can get for this kind of money. I recall the comments from my grandson written in my last report on ham radio vs WhatsApp. Like the Americans would say, it’s a no brainer. An old die hard ham radio man like myself would be enticed to go that route too!

So, how could ham radio become affordable to younger hams and give equal satisfaction to that of the latest technologies at their fingertips. The answer I still believe is in simple home brewing and of course CW! This argument does not apply to those who wish to build a high power station with the best equipment available, the highest tower and the best beams not to mention a high end computing platform in order to work the world using FT8. Okay, said tongue in cheek with a little sarcasm for taste. Each one to his own but you can’t cart all that “stuff” up a steep hill braving the elements or walk a kilometer, ride a bicycle or paddle a canoe carrying everything including your linear!

The fun in POTA / SOTA and RaDAR is the minimalistic theme and already Jannie ZS3CM is being bitten by the bug. Johnathan ZS1ARB often climbs mountains at every opportunity, not necessarily SOTA. He was so surprised that he was heard so well the other day only pushing five Watts! Michael ZS6MSW, a CW enthusiast usually runs 100W in fear of not being heard. It’s only two S points difference between 100W and 5W. I’m sure we’ll be hearing Michael at QRP levels more often! I truly believe QRP radio’s have better receivers or the operator’s ears are more finely tuned expecting a weaker signal and listening more carefully than the QRO operator expecting a full quieting signal at S9 PLUS levels. I’m being purposefully “sarcastic” again – do I have your attention now?

That WhatsApp thingy – you need to be part of the SOTA / POTA and “CW a lifestyle” groups. There is an international RaDAR WhatsApp group too but mostly only active before the three annual RaDAR Challenges.

There is also a WhatsApp Hamsat group. I left the group because I no longer had the time to follow all the activity and unable to be too active on the sats, limited to the FM satellites where the most activity takes place anyway. I’ll be back again in a few weeks / months time. I’m still working on my morale!

Talking about morale. I get pretty happy knowing some guys are going out to do some SOTA activations and I start to prepare to support them. The rules have changed, a SOTA chaser only gets a point for the first QSO on a summit for the day. It’s about supporting multiple ACTIVATORS. They need four QSO’s EACH to get credit for their hard work. Propagation is sometimes our friend. Forty meters has been rather skippy the past few months, sometimes to our advantage for longer distance contacts throughout South Africa.

Take a walk on the “wild” side. Have fun!!!

SARL call book November 1975

My son Edwill over 37 years ago

RaDAR News – December 2018

Dennis Green ZS4BS, the editor for Radio ZS, and secretary for the SARL recently sent out the advertisement, “Radio ZS has vacancies for the following columns – Youth Activities; the YL Column; VHF,UHF and Microwave News; Satellite News; SOTA,POTA, IOTA, RaDAR News; Club News and Activities; Homebrew. It can be a monthly or bi-monthly column”. This is the first of the RaDAR News column which I will write on a monthly basis.

In recent months I’ve been struggling with my own morale as far as ham radio is concerned. Conditions are up and down and QSO counts averaging around two QSO’s per weekend. Granted I’m always QRP and always operating from the field. I’ve set up my link dipole about 100m from home in the veld using my yellow painters pole mast. It stays there for weekend operations.

I have resigned from Facebook. I was active there for over a decade. Before the end of December everything I ever participated in will be erased as if I was never there. I’m still active on various WhatsApp groups though. Most members of such groups are active and this our only means of alerts other than ham radio.

I asked my grandson Eduan how he felt about amateur radio. He loved imitating his grandfather when he was younger. He’s just turned thirteen, now a teenager with wisdom. He said ham radio did not interest him, it is simply communicating with someone, WhatsApp is communication too and he’s quite happy with that. Of course very true, I could not argue.

I was talking to a friend involved in neighbourhood watch, doing patrols at night keeping residents safe from criminal activities. They work closely with a police colonel. The radio’s they now use are GSM radios with built in GPS’s and can be used tactically much like our very own APRS. APRS is nothing “special” or a ham only facility anymore. There is no need for high sites and repeater systems but they do rely on the cell network. He did say the batteries are sometimes stolen at cell phone tower installations which cause problems. They have backup standard VHF radio systems in the event of a total cell network blackout something close to science fiction but not impossible.

So to improve my own morale I think back to things that inspired me to take on this journey. It started at a science faire at the Johannesburg city hall in the early 1970’s. I wonder if the hall is still a hall and if anyone ever goes into the centre of Johannesburg anymore. I really don’t know! There were radios sitting on a table behind a counter. The sounds of morse code, not AM or SSB, and the comments from hams manning the station is what triggered my interest. Nothing has changed, this is the very basic thing that has kept me going for forty three years. CW defines ham radio!

Then there is RaDAR, I’m too far away from anything to do with SOTA or GMA or IOTA but I can do RaDAR. In fact it’s RaDAR that allows me the freedom to practice ham radio in its most basic form.

RaDAR movements is the only thing that makes RaDAR different from similar activities. Now that I’m over sixty I find movements also a little challenging. Still, to keep practicing such activities gives purpose to my way of being an active ham.

I still love those old radios that sit on a desk. There is nothing more beautiful than radio equipment that is antique. Linears and digital modes like FT8 don’t attract my attention at all. In fact I think FT8 is killing ham radio!!! Well that’s my opinion, others will certainly differ.

Even satellite activites bore me now, same exchange with the same people from the same grid on every new satellite pass and reports are always 59. But, there are new satellites been launched and need to be worked. Satellites can be used for SOTA activations and RaDAR too. Disheartening though is that I have never achieved five QSO’s during a RaDAR challenge! Always a maximum of three in an otherwise busy environment? I wonder why ….

Recognition for RaDAR in ZS is certainly there and it’s value acknowledged but participation is at an all time low. It’s that way for most other activities as well. Fortunately the interest in CW is growing and that gives me hope. Imagine SOTA activations using CW, RaDAR challenges using CW – sure that happens in other parts of the world but very rare in ZS. Let’s hope 2019 sees these dreams become reality.

“Mosdop” – The plastic inner of a battle helmet.

CW – It’s what defines ham radio

I was browsing an old backup and found a CW proficiency certificate issued to my son Edwill when he was a young boy. (He’s now 36) He became ZU6AAI but has since lost interest as many young people do.

My friend Mike ZS6ARU (SK) and I were the examiners officially assigned by the South African Radio League (SARL) for the Northwest.

Since CW is no longer compulsory this is no longer seen. It would be great if just some acknowledgement could be given for those few who still show interest in CW!!!

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

South Africa – The generators are running again

A helpless situation. Load shedding has been implemented again. Power supplies are cut, government institutions lie in darkness as are retail outlets. As I leave home to get back to work after lunch I turn into a refuse riddled main street. There is no shamefulness in litter here.

Actually I didn’t have lunch, the food could not be cooked and I settled for a bowl of bran and cold milk and a tablespoon of sugar for taste. I felt tired and slept for  twenty minutes. Not much else to do.

My Internet was down, no power to the router. No water either as I rely on an electric pump to pump water from my resovoir – there because for close on a half a decade the municipal water supply is mostly off. Switched on only to maybe keep my 2,500 litre resevoir filled, two or three hours a day! Everyone has a resovoir, you can’t live without one and this is the modern world?

Back at work, the generator is running. The main UPS failed twice recently sending IT systems into oblivion which takes days to fully recover. Risky business and no business at all. It is extremely costly to run a diesel engine at high revs for hours on end.

Books have been written about state capture, there are ongoing inquiries and court cases, no one yet has been brought to book. South Africa is dying and the corruption continues, the perpetrators walk free. A book to read which explains this quite well is Jaques Pauw’s “The presidents keepers”. It’s mind boggling stuff and it’s happening right here in South Africa. It’s horrifying.

My drivers licence needs to be renewed, it needs to be done every five years. I’ve been there three times, people hanging around and it appears there is no direction. The second time the place was empty, the machine used for eye tests and fingerprinting had broken. I suspect they are also now closed due to load shedding and so the queue gets longer ….

Nowhere to cry out, it’s going to get worse. The potholes in the road get bigger, drains either blocked or destroyed, electrical distribution boards stand open as citizens walk past daily.

Nobody cares …. 

RaDAR – Equipment and purpose

Once again my amateur radio equipment has been refined keeping the purpose of minimalistic RaDAR in mind. I now only have a few rigs – each with a purpose.

B25 Ex-Military HF only radio – I use this radio at home running off batteries. It can easily be packed and transported to an alternative QTH. Although it was initially designed as a manpack for the military, it’s pretty heavy to carry. I use two 7 A/Hr SLABS wired in parallel as a power supply.

Smart Charger – Needed to charge sealed lead acid batteries (SLAB’s). No other charger is suitable. This charger ensures a decent charge without damaging the batteries.

HB1A CW Only 40m/30m/20m QRP radio – This tiny radio works well and although it was designed to be trail friendly I use it at home for ad hoc CW contacts from home. I use it with various hand keys depending on my mood or a Bencher BY-1 paddle for faster speeds. This radio always impresses me for it’s simplicity and what it can do. It has excellent audio!

40m End fed tuner and 20.2m long wire – My antenna of choice for 40m communications from home. Pretty slealthy too so it doesn’t attract any complaints and works extremely well. The tuner is fixed outside and fed with ten meters of LMR400 coax (It’s what I had).

TH-D7A(g) dualbander – This is the radio I use for duplex FM satellite communications and APRS. I use the plug in mic and headphones. APRS isn’t that popular in South Africa so it is seldom used. I power the rig externally using 12 x NiMH rechargable penlights which is a cheap and reliable solution.

Garmin Legend GPS – Used occasionally with the TH-D7A(g) for APRS or carried in the backpack for reliable navigation in unknown areas.

Philips MP3 recorder – Used together with the TH-D7A(g) for recording the fast exchanges while doing RaDAR SatComms.

YOTA 2018 Dualband yagi – Used for RaDAR SatComms while in the field. It’s compact and very lightweight. Designed and built in South Africa.

Arrow dualband satellite antenna with built in diplexer – Used on a tripod for fixed station RaDAR SatComms

Xiegu X5105 Multimode HF only QRP radio – This radio is a compact solution for RaDAR operations in the field. It excels here but only in the outdoors. It has a built in rechargeable battery and ATU. It has a built in microphone so the plug in microphone always stays at home. The audio quality of this radio leaves a lot to be desired but not quite that noticeable in the field where the wind mostly blows and the sounds of nature take preference. The communications audio with either SSB or CW is quite acceptable. Headphones CANNOT be used with this radio unfortunately the audio quality demoralises the operator!!!

40m to 10m link dipole fed with RG58cu coax and dual painter pole mast – My antenna of choice in the field. Quick and easy to deploy and strong enough to hande moderate winds using bungi’s as shock absorbers.

That pretty much wraps up my amateur radio kit. I am QRP only but from experience there is not much difference between 5W and a 100W if conditions are good. They should be good anyway if any effective communications need to be made.

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE