News Column

Ham radio enthusiasts practice digital transmissions

June 29, 2014

By Stephen J. Pytak, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.



June 29--NEW RINGGOLD -- While some ham radio operators tapped out transmissions with keyers or talked into microphones at an annual gathering of amateur radio operators Saturday, others typed them in, as if texting.

Using a computer keyboard rigged to a ham radio, Bob McClintock, 36, of Girardville, honed his digital on-air technology skills at the 41st annual Schuylkill Amateur Repeater Association Field Day at the West Penn Archery Club, 147 Archery Club Road.

"Basically, this sends text messaging over the radio without the use of the Internet, phone lines or anything else. It's bringing ham radio into the 21st century," McClintock said at the 24-hour event, which began at 2 p.m. Saturday and will conclude at 2 p.m. today.

Among those at the club trying to contact ham radio users from around the world Saturday were Todd Deem, Lehighton, SARA president; James J. Munley, Lost Creek, SARA secretary; and SARA members including Pete Oesterle, Pine Grove, and Michael Cuttic, Frackville.

At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Oesterle was using a microphone to send voice transmissions. Cuttic was keying in messages using International Morse Code.

"And over here, we have digital," Munley said, introducing McClintock, who is SARA's emergency coordinator for Schuylkill County.

"This is something new that we're doing this year. Last week, a contingent of us from Schuylkill County that are involved in emergency communications went up to Luzerne County to learn more. This is something they're implementing worldwide for emergency communications," McClintock said.

"And the signal is coming through the ham radio. That's what we're using," Munley said.

Munley emphasized that by pointing to the setup McClintock was using, which included a Yaesu FT-857D HF/VHF/UHF multimode amateur transceiver, then showing the cable leading to the antenna set up outside the club on the border of its archery range.

"This is a standard off-the-shelf laptop. We put on freeware that's available online for other ham radio operators. The signal goes through the USB port to a box which is basically an external sound card. It's a high-powered sound card which translates it into an audio signal," McClintock said.

The sound card was connected to the Yaesu-brand transceiver.

On Saturday, he'd contacted ham radio operators with similar setups in states including Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

"We're contacting other stations and telling them the type of station we have," McClintock said.

The digital setup will allow a ham radio operator to send longer text messages over the air. It would work well in emergencies when the power goes out and amateur radio is the only means of communication, McClintock said.

"Say there's a disaster, like a tornado or anything major, and there's a loss of communications or power. What we typically do is provide communications to the hospitals and the county emergency operations centers. We have a radio link between each county and PEMA. And if you or county emergency management were dictating a message to me, we can type in that information, hit send and the person on the other end will receive it and can print it out. It saves them from having to use a pencil," McClintock said.

SARA was organized on March 5, 1975, according to its website at www.w3sc.org.

Its goals are to promote interest in amateur radio and encourage and provide technical assistance to fellow amateurs in the operation and use of repeaters and associated equipment.

The group's call sign is W3SC. Deem's call sign is KB3IKX, and McClintock's is N3RZI.

Field Day is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, the national association for amateur radio. During the annual event, thousands of fellow amateur radio operators and clubs will be setting up radio stations in parks, community centers and other remote locations for the purpose of gaining proficiency in operating under austere conditions should an emergency occur, according to Munley.

Munley said this year's event is dedicated to late SARA member Robert V. "Dominic" Tobin, Cumbola, who passed away at 76 on May 11.

Amateur radio operators who transmit over short-wave frequencies are called "ham radio" operators.

"The origin of the term is unknown. Ham radio is noncommercial, two-way transmission in which messages are sent by Morse code or by voice," according to www.accesscom.com.

Unlicensed amateurs who purchase these radios at electronics stores can listen in on transmissions.

Before transmitting, an amateur must obtain a license. In the United States, application is made to the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C.

___

(c)2014 the Republican & Herald (Pottsville, Pa.)

Visit the Republican & Herald (Pottsville, Pa.) at republicanherald.com

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Source: Republican & Herald (Pottsville, PA)


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