Show Menu

Posted Sep 1, 2020

NC ARRL News
September 1, 2020

Greetings from the High Country.

Some leaves have fallen, perhaps due to earlier extended dry spells and perhaps due to recent strong winds. Regardless of the cause, I am finding yellowish leaves on my recently mowed lawn. Each day the Sun sets about a minute and half earlier..

September 22 will be the first day of Fall and the Autumnal (Fall) Equinox, meaning that the day and night periods are equal in duration. Each day after September 22, the nights will be longer than the daylight period and this will continue until December 21, the Fall Solstice. After December 21, the daylight period will increase each day by about a minute and a half but the long darkness of winter will continue until the Vernal (Spring) Equinox occurs on March 21, 2021.

I made an error in the previous newsletter.

First off, I need to correct an error in the last newsletter which involved incorrectly identifying Zach Thompson (KM4BLG) as being featured on the cover of QST. Inside the magazine, there was an article written by Zach that focused on making a portable mast which can fit into a backpack. I received the article text and was told that it was the cover story and had a picture. I wrote my story in the most recent newsletter before I got my copy of QST.

As several of his friends pointed out to me, and as I realized when I finally got my copy of QST, the cover photo was not a photo of Zach but was a photo of someone else chosen by the editorial staff at QST. So, kudos still go out to Zach for the project and the article. But if you look for Zach at a hamfest to give him an Attaboy, donít use the cover photo as your guide for finding him.

Here is an item that may cause you concern as a ham operator or prospective ham.

FCC Proposes Application Fees

The FCC issued a notice on 8/28/2020 that it intends to update its fee structure in response to a directive from Congress to raise revenue and to capture the cost of processing various applications. One of the proposals in a very long document is to charge a $50 application fee for new, renewed or vanity call amateur radio licenses, all of which currently carry no fee.

In a clever bureaucratic bit of logic, the license will remain free but the application to apply for a license or vanity call will require a $50 application fee. If implemented, the FCC application fee would be in addition to the VEC fee charged by the organization offering the license exams.

In the few days that the proposal has been public, it already has generated a considerable amount of concern as to why this fee is being proposed.

First, issuing amateur licenses almost always require no intervention by the FCC since the Volunteer Examiner Coordinators directly enter applicant information directly into the FCC database and then the FCC computer system issues a sequential calls ign. The current VEC system means that there is virtually no cost to the FCC since there is no staff time involved. Sometime in the past, there was a proposal to charge for a vanity call sign but the FCC determined that collecting the money and accounting for it would cost more than it was worth so no vanity call sign fee was implemented.

Secondly, an enthusiastic ham, who rapidly upgrades from Tech, to General, to Extra would pay an application fee for each new license unless he or she passed multiple exams in one test session (which would require only one application fee).

Third, amateur radio is often praised for its role in assisting emergency management during disasters and many people feel that a $50 application fee will result in few hams being available to help in disasters and will also discourage young people from becoming hams.

I urge you to respectfully do the following:

  1. You can file your comments about the proposal on-line at the FCC Electronic Comment Filing System (www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings). Be sure to refer to 20-270 in the form section called Proceeding. Also, be sure to be polite in expressing whatever position you take on the proposed fee and explain your reasons. It is likely that the cutoff for comments will be October 9, 2020 so do not delay.
  2. If you have the opportunity to talk with your US Senate member or US House of Representatives during this election campaign season, respectfully point out that the FCC has proposed the $50 application despite the Congressís earlier directive to the FCC that amateur radio licenses be exempt from license fees. Politely state that you hope the Congress will reinstate its directive to the FCC to keep amateur radio exempt from all fees, whether they are called application fees or license fees.
  3. Regardless of whether or not you meet with a candidate in person or during a Zoom campaign event, write to your US House of Representatives member and Senators and urge them to contact Chairman Arjat Pai at the FCC urging him to rescind the $50 application fee for amateur radio operators.

We will post on the NC ARRL webpage a listing of the addresses of each of the 13 members of the US House and the two US Senators. Always be respectful in your communications. Additional information can be found at http://www.arrl.org/news/fcc-proposes-to-reinstate-amateur-radio-service-fees.

Other News from the ARRL

Two important leadership positions have been filled at ARRL HQ following extended vacancies.

The ARRL Board of Directors on August 28, 2020 chose Mr. David Minster, NA2AA, of Wayne, New Jersey to become the Chief Executive Officer for ARRL. An article describing Dave Minsterís qualifications and background can be found at http://www.arrl.org/news/board-of-directors-elects-new-arrl-ceo-david-minster-na2aa Initial comments on social media about David Minster are positive and make note of the fact that he is an active ham, a cw operator, and has considerable background in IT through his long career in the business world.

On August 18, 2020, the ARRL Board chose Paul Gilbert, KE5ZW, to become the first Emergency Management Director for ARRL. Paul is in his second term as South Texas Section Manager and is retired after a career with the Texas Department of Transportation involving their land mobile and microwave communications systems. The Emergency Management Director is a newly created position which is part of an effort by the ARRL Board to substantially improve the ability of ARRL and amateur radio to respond to disasters. Paulís responsibilities will include ARESģ, NTS, and interfacing with various external agencies like the Red Cross, FEMA, MARS, DHS, VOAD and SHARES. A link with information about Paulís appointment can be found at http://www.arrl.org/news/arrl-hires-paul-z-gilbert-ke5zw-as-director-of-emergency-management.

Disaster Preparedness Begins at Home

Most people today are not prepared to cope well without electricity.

Recent severe storms, including Hurricanes Isaias and Laura and well as the high wind Derecho in Iowa, again point out the need for amateur radio operators to be prepared for extended power outages. Each of these situations caused widespread damage to local power lines with power off for as much as a week, sometimes longer, because of the thousands of broken power poles, downed lines, trees blocking roads and the need to bring in help from outside utility crews.

What can you do to be prepared?

Do you have a portable solar array that can charge batteries in a portable radio or a battery pack for a 100 watt HF station?

Do you have a generator? How much fuel do you have and is it safely stored? Is the exhaust from the generator directed away from any open windows so that you do not inadvertently bring carbon monoxide into your shack or home?

Do you have materials for a temporary antenna if your main antenna is damaged by high winds, fallen trees or, in a couple of months, ice loading?

Most importantly, do you an alternate source for drinking water if you have a well? How much frozen food would you lose if power was off for a week? Consider that you need to rely on canned goods and heat some items on a Coleman stove.

Digital Data on Ham Radio

The ARRL Board gave final approval at its Board Meeting on July 17 for its legal staff to ask the FCC to modify Part 97 rules to provide specific subbands for digital operation on several HF bands. The details of the recommended band plan can be found at http://www.arrl.org/files/file/ODV/Second%20Board%20Meeting%20July%202020/Doc%2025A%20Band%20Plan%20Final-1b.pdf. The purpose of the request from the ARRL to the FCC is attempt to bring harmony among cw, ssb and digital operators by segregating into subbands digital transmissions like Pactor 3, MT63 and other digital modes.

While it is not known when the FCC will act (some important amateur matters have been pending for several years) the ARRL leadership believes that the FCC staff is receptive to bringing several pending to a conclusion at this time, including the proposal to give HF voice privileges for Technician class operators. Digital transmissions have grown significantly in popularity. While some digital modes produce few complaints (like FT8), other modes seem to produce more complaints because the transmissions tend to last longer.

You may be interested to know that there has been increased interest among EmComm and ARESģ operators about increasing the use of various modems to transfer messages over ham radio. For example, Virginia ARESģ holds a Winlink Wednesday each week to training hams and to increase the proficiency of others in using Winlink Express for handling emergency traffic.

I participate in weekly Section Manager and Section Emergency Coordinator video meetings. Over 150 SM and SECís joined in the meetings to learn more about increasing their reliance on digital modes including Winlink and VARA for handling traffic. In fact, twelve weekly meetings are assigned to this topic and five of the sessions have already been completed.

Winlink Express is a set of programs which have been rigorously tested over several years and is now used by many hams to send message traffic over HF and vhf/uhf. Some of the Winlink Express protocols have slower operating speeds, primarily for use on vhf and uhf. The vhf and uhf modes generally operate with inexpensive sound card modems which interface between your radio and your computer. Some hams rely on outboard sound card modems to handle digital traffic over HF. On the other hand, some newer model HF radios have built-in modems that can use Winlink Express and do not require an outboard soundcard. Popular outboard modems include Signalink, Kantronics KPC-3+, MFJ 1275 as well as others.

Faster data speeds and improved throughput are possible with Winlink Express by using Pactor 3 and the newer Pactor 4 modem which are manufactured by SCS in Germany. These modems are used by ocean-going mariners and land loving hams. An obsolete FCC rule currently prohibits use of Pactor 4 on ham frequencies but government agencies and hams operating on HF in MARS and SHARES can use Pactor 4 which operates at something like 6-8 times the data rates of Pactor 3.

The proposed ARRL band plan and the anticipated FCC rule change, once approved, will permit Pactor 4 to be used on HF ham frequencies. A Pactor 4 modem can communicate with Pactor 3 or Pactor 4 modems but the older Pactor 3 modems can only communicate with other Pactor 3 modems. Older Pactor 3 modems are often available on Ebay at considerably less cost than the current Pactror 4 models.

Winlink Express (using either Pactor 3 or Pactor 4) permits users to send small photos, Word documents and other attachments along with text. Winlink Express contains many templates or prepared forms that speed up the passing of data. Information about Winlink can be found at https://winlink.org

VARA is a relatively new program developed by Jose Alberto Nieto Ros (EA5VH from Spain) and is catching a lot of attention among digital operators. VARA was developed based on earlier research on processing weak signals from deep space and provides a very significant increase in the amount of data that can be transferred with the 2.4Khz bandwidth of a voice signal. VARA uses OGDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing). I am still trying to understand the underlying engineering but independent tests by experts in the field have shown that using a signal link (or similar soundcard modem) and Joseís VARA software, it is possible to pass 19.2 Kbs data in 2.4 Khz wide signal over HF. The fact that fast speeds, error correction and weak signal processing can all be accomplished using a relatively inexpensive sound card modem is what is generating the huge interest in VARA.

NCEM Training Changes in the Works

I received word on Monday, August 31, that NCEM has suspended classroom-based training courses for the remainder of 2020. TERMS (terms.ncem.org) has started listing virtual courses.

While getting ready for the on-line training, you may want to use some of your free time to complete the FEMA introductory courses that deal with the National Incident Management System. I urge you to complete ICS 100, 200, 700 and 800. They are free and completion of the ICS courses is required for all responding personnel in North Carolina. The courses can be found at https://training.fema.gov/is/.

In a related matter, I recently learned that Homeland Security is in the process of developing versions of the COML and other COMU courses that will be delivered virtually. This is being done because training is needed but has not been possible during the COVID-19 restrictions across the country. It is expected that by January 1, the Auxcomm course will be delivered virtually. As this issue develops, I will keep you posted.

Shelby Amateur Radio Club Special Event Station

Although the Shelby Hamfest has been canceled for 2020, the Shelby Amateur Radio Club will be operating a special event station on several bands, beginning at 8 pm on Thursday, September 3 and extending through Labor Day, Monday, September 7. Fire up your HF rig, or if you are closer to Shelby, use your 2 meter rig and call W4NYR. A special QSL card has been prepared for those who make contact with N4NYR. Details can be found at www.shelbyarc.org/special-event-station.html.

Sevier County Hamfest

Amateur operators in the western portion of the state, as well as others who suffer serious withdrawal symptoms due to the lack of hamfests, may want to consider going to the Sevier County Hamfest in Tennessee. I received a post card yesterday announcing their hamfest will be held on September 19, 2020 at the Sevier County Fairgrounds, 754 Old Knoxville Highway, Sevierville TN. The card indicates there will commercial vendors, food and door prizes. Information can be found at https://seviercountyars.com. Check it out.

Closing Comments

Everyone I know is tired of the COVID-19 restrictions and their opinions differ as to whether the restrictions are too tough or whether more should have been done earlier.

Parents everywhere are very anxious over the health of their children. My daughter is trying to home school a Freshman in high school, a seventh grader, a fifth grader and a first grader while keeping an eye on a very active four-year old. She, like everyone I know, wishes things would get back to normal and wishes her kids could safely return to school. Her serious worry is about how easily bugs and viruses get passed around in the schools.

Locally, as I pointed out in an earlier newsletter, residents in Boone fear a large COPVID-19 outbreak now that 20,000 students are back at Appalachian which will overwhelm the local health department, our local doctors and the hospital. Now that the students are here, maybe the best thing is to keep them here for the duration. Chapel Hill, NC State and East Carolina University opted to open but then sent about 50,000 students home due to outbreaks on their campuses. In a few weeks, we will know if the decision to open and then close was a colossal mistake which resulted in spreading the virus across the state. Time will tell.

As I say to nearly everyone I talk to, stay well and do good things.

73, Marv, WA4NC
wa4nc@arrl.org