Category Archives: ham radio

The increasing irrelevance of Ham Radio Emcomm.

Senhaix Radio edit

Remember Hurricane Harvey??— In Houston, a reported 95% of the telco cell network stayed up.  Houston area cell providers promised to harden the network after Katrina- and they did just that! —- As a result, nearly all communications with public safety agencies during Harvey were conducted on the working commercial cell and POTS infrastructure.

cell service in Houston Harvey

 

Zello ( is a push-to-talk app for mobile devices and PCs.) with 120 million users around the world.  Available wherever there’s WiFi or data service. And unlike  “walkie-talkies”, there are no limits to users, channels or category of use.  Over 1 million Houston area citizens downloaded the Zello app in a single day during Harvey.

In the Houston area, people got on Zello the “radio” and self-formed local networks—-Complete with map-based location identifiers—-Hurricane Harvey was what one media outlet called the first Social media Hurricane.  Citizens created “family” groups, “neighborhood” groups, “work” groups, “School” groups to name a few. And they had easy transparent communications between them all.

Press Coverage from Harvey:

                                                     Time Mag

Time Magazine headline:  

‘Please Send Help.’ Hurricane Harvey Victims Turn to Twitter and Facebook

Coast Guard asks people stranded by Harvey to call them instead of posting on social media for help. 24 Hours later– the Coast Guard backed down and began using Social Media as well.
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During Harvey the ARRL Houston ARES PIO, Mike Urich, KA5CVH suggested  (in a surprisingly candid interview), that hams didn’t have much on-air work to do at the”EOC”.

ARRL South Texas Public Information Officer Mike Urich, KA5CVH, told ARRL on August 30 that “hardening” of the telecommunications infrastructure to make it more immune to storm damage has diminished the need for Amateur Radio communication support and altered hams’ traditional role there. Urich pointed out, however, that the Amateur Radio telecommunications infrastructure in South Texas has remained analog, as “the lowest common denominator” of technology — VHF/UHF FM, and HF — and has the highest degree of interoperability. “That’s what we train to, that’s what we teach, that’s what we practice,” he said.— SOURCE: ARRL Web site.

The  Senhaix 60 (at top)– is a radio entry to the network. Loaded with Zello it becomes an invaluable tool in communications that people used via smart phone (by the 10’s of thousands) with zero training during Hurricane Harvey and other events.

This emerging class of software and devices has enabled people to bypass the need for a “license” to communicate via “radio”. —- Harvey demonstrated that Ham Radio and even Local Government traditional EmComm models are obsolete.—- One Houston area Gov’t organization said early on in a bulletin to the public— Do not use Social Mediawe won’t get to you  Call us on the phone!—- Guess what?  The public ignored them. Within 24 hours the local agency changed their tune.  Even the US Coast Guard found it hard to break from the tired/linear model —They implored citizens to “Call us on the Phone” They too, backed off when literally hundreds of thousands of people in Houston were using various Self-formed networks made easy by apps like Zello and WAZE. One smart coder- soon after Harvey’s land-fall,  created a “crowd-source” rescue web site to aggregate rescues in the region. The data was credible in showing the status of rescues for all to see. Complete or Pending. (Or who is left out there needing help??!!)— The Web site was quickly seized upon as a real-time “live” Database for localities to determine who needed rescuing. Further, in the shallow yet flooded streets of Houston, Rescue teams in boats could not see where the streets were— so they used WAZE for accurate navigation to reach those needing help. Add the powerful GPS tracking app GLYMPSE  that many used —  the decentralization of communications is a far more efficient model than that of Ham radio.

KA5CVH, Mike Urich said the emcomm Hams assisted in the “EOC” as being “another set of eyes and ears”. He noted how a senior EOC official needed a specific trailer hitch and Mike got  online and researched it for him.– This was an example of the Ham Radio team’s contribution. “When all else fails” Urich noted that they go for the “lowest common denominator”  analog systems that work and have the widest interoperability.

This model uses the most rudimentary ham radio gear and skills.  “That’s what we train to, that’s what we teach, that’s what we practice,”    The many “digital modes” available to Hams are not used.

Ham Radio emcomm’s “rai·son d’ê·tre” is evaporating. The Newington propagandists will continue to promote the “When all else fails” myth But it won’t matter. They live in an echo chamber.  Technology and the public have left Ham radio behind.

QUICK!!   You live in California– Huge wildfires are licking at your door. The next few hours will be critical to your family’s safety.  You can pick up your smart phone or a 2 meter rig.  Which device do you take?

Yes, there will be events where the inefficient /traditional/analog workflow model of Ham Radio will still be useful. But as Networks become hardened, and as more devices like the Senhaix emerge, the relevance of Ham Radio emcomm will be exposed for what it is. An anachronism from the analog past.

Oh the gadget above:  The Senhaix 60 is the natural evolution of the Wireless Device environment.   More will surely follow.

Senhaix 60 Video Review One

Senhaix 60 Video Review Two 

The 3 apps below are in widespread use around the world. They are not “new”.

Glympse .           Waze1      zello logo 1

Random Notes

NOTE 1

Kenwood and Yaesu introduced new HF transceivers with completely different architectures. Kenwood managed to build a fresh new HF-radio– with some distinct features yet without diminishing the 5-year-old big brother– the TS-990S.

TS890S Front

Kenwood’s TS-890 . is a full- down conversion receiver (No FPGA-SDR). The spec sheet lists an H-Mode Mixer , which some say will place the radio at the top of the Sherwood Engineering list.  As an appliance operator– I’ll take their word for it. Price is $3800 (Gigparts December/2018)Yaesu ft101D photo

Yaesu’s FTDX-101D is a full-on SDR. The price point undetermined at this time.

Icom 7610

Both of these new rigs appear targeted against the Icom 7610.

There are already on-line user groups set up. I joined just to follow the doings as these radios finally ship and we get to hear real-world feedback.

FTDX-101D Group Here                                   TS-890 Group HERE

They both look like fun Mid-Range HF Rigs.

NOTE 2

Elon Musk is a business magnate, investor, and engineer.

Arguably one of the most interesting and creative men of the Digital Era. A genius from South Africa who had a tumultuous upbringing and fled to the United States. Entrepreneur and innovator behind SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity,  he sold one of his internet companies, PayPal, for $1.5 billion.  — From his “Boring Company” to his $500 Flame Thrower to his  Giga Battery Factory in Nevada he continues to innovate. Elon Musk is not a “One-Hit’ wonder.

ELON MUSK

Recently, at the end of a 2 hour and 37-minute interview, Musk  smoked some Pot  at the invitation of his  PodCast Host.  Wall Street went wobbly, Tesla stock dropped, Jim Cramer of CNBC went into a tizzy and High Times suggested Musk could lose his Government security clearance. — No matter. Keep your eye on the ball. 2 hours and 37 minutes is a L–O–N–G time.  But it is substantive and stimulating. — Way better than listening to elderly men on 40 meters talking about the weather.  Oh! And  Neil DeGrasse Tyson compared Musk to Thomas Edison.  He defended Musk’s Pot Smoking in USA Today, saying, “Let him get high!”

Curious?  You should be!  The full fascinating interview here:   Joe Rogan Experience #1169

John Hinckley Special Event Station

1982 Hinckley Beach

In June 1982 as a Cameraman for NBC News based in Washington D.C. every Saturday for a month, I was assigned to stake out the U.S. Federal Courthouse where the trial of attempted Presidential assassin John Hinckley was underway. All the networks and the print media set up on the front lawn of the courthouse. (This was back when Federal Courthouse security was waaaay laxer than it is today.) Our job was to await new developments and the lawyers would periodically come out and stand in front of the microphones and update the press.  We in the Press Corps called the setting, “Hinckley Beach” since it was summer and little happened until the end of the trial.  We’d bring lawn chairs, coolers, and umbrellas to beat the DC summer heat and humidity.

One weekend, I threw my Kenwood TS-130 HF rig in the microwave truck and and a Hustler Mobile Whip that I mounted on an upside down trash can (a faux ground) and set it up on the roof of the van. A Washington Post photographer thought my radio set up was interesting and shot the photo above. It didn’t make it into the paper, but he sent me a copy.

My recollection is, I worked a lot of DX on 15 meters that day. I declared myself a “Special Event” station and foreign hams would express surprise when I told them where I was operating from. Surely operating from the courthouse would be prohibited!  I was on the air, MC-60 mic in hand when this photo was taken. It was fun.

NOTE: Some years later (mid 90’s)  I would see Hinckley up close and photograph him thanks to (Bearcat Scanners)….but that’s another story for another time(and video too!)

 

Veterans Day Special Event Stations

img_1049

I was the network television pool camera for the Desert Storm “Victory” Parade. We were on a Flat bed truck rolling in front of the parade leaders. I took this still image of General Schwarzkopf and his staff at the front as they marched down Constitution avenue in Washington DC., The parade was in June of 1991. I used the photo for a “Veterans Day Special Event Station” 1991.  On Veterans Day that Year (91) it was pouring rain! Wet and Cold. We operated near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the service drive next to the Lincoln Memorial. We were in an empty truck similar to a UPS delivery truck with no packages. We set up a table and put wire antennas out. It was fun.

img_1048

 

This was the first Special Event Station I organized.  Me and several Hams from NBC manned the station, set up near this monument statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  On the air there was a tremendous response. I shot this photo on the morning of Veteran’s Day 1990. About 7am. I’ve always liked this statue. Jan Scruggs the Vet who made the wall happen, came by that day and said hi at the station site.

 

.Radio Domain

radio

The Internet Domain Space for the Global Radio Community

 

Radio URL break out

Most Hams don’t have a personal Web address.  But if you’ve ever thought of claiming your call sign domain— there’s an even better reason to claim it now.  Instead of being wa4d.net. or arrl.org you can now register for your call .Radio   This is a new internet extension reserved for the Radio Community. ” .radio is a new top-level domain (like .com or .net) which is exclusively dedicated to radio stations, web radios, radio professionals, companies selling radio goods and services and radio amateurs.”

Radio url graphic

 

Learn about the .radio extension–Click on image below. or GO to www.nic.radio.

Radio TDL site

CW: The defining mode of Amateur radio

VibroplexIambicAmidst the zillions of exchanges online, on the air and personal discourse, Hams have debated the merits and/or relevance of CW for decades. I’m guessing it began in the 60’s as single sideband emerged as the dominant phone mode and the spectrum efficiency wars began with the old school AMers. (I fondly recall the insults that flew between the slop bucket crowd and the AM enthusiasts!) From there it simmered and then flashed again as talk began of reducing and/or outright elimination of Morse as a part of licensing criteria by the FCC and endorsed by the ARRL. Of course, in the end, it faded away as a requirement and we are left with a completely optional choice for the new Ham radio operator. To learn Morse Code.  Or not.

Morse Code is largely irrelevant in 2017 as a critical mode of information exchange.  World maritime authorities turned their back on CW some years ago, as a vital requirement. Despite the Morse code’s gripping historical beginnings and moments of consequence (think the “Titanic” incident and WW I and WWII), it has been displaced by far more sophisticated methods and tools. But to the hobbyist it’s relevance is more than a mere technical operating choice. To many long-time hams, the mode reflects the essence of Amateur radio. Those first moments of CW recognition cutting through the crackle and interpreting the message are the “magic” that many old-timers speak of. I would argue that it is also a reflection of the accomplishment and discipline required to learn the mode. Some Hams tell us the mode is dead!   Yet I would offer, that those who never learn this first mode of our hobby have missed a rewarding experience.

The heritage and soul of the hobby have been shaped by Morse Code.  ( I was going to conclude with a final sentence: “CW literacy still matters in the 21st century”)  But then who am I kidding? It doesn’t matter. But I still revere the mode.

At the time of this writing, wa4d copies Morse at 22-24wpm at approx. 90% accuracy.

mike whatley  wa4d.       Learn Morse Code ARRL.Org.      W1AW Code Practice Schedule