Simulated Radiogram Night

Last evening, some of the CKARC fellows got together on the air to send radiograms. We had 7 turn out for training and out of those, 4 actually did the on air portion. We also had two “onlookers” that couldn’t make it to the training. Overall, the program went fairly well. I really would have liked to see more club members participating but that’s how these things usually go. We did learn a number of things: a) speak slowly and write quickly b) make sure you actually write your radiogram out before putting it on the air c) have a pencil sharpener ready. Our trainer/coordinator did an excellent job.

You can certainly tell who the dedicated hams are and those that are just hams for some unknown reason. Some never turn out for any event, never hear them on the air and they never respond to correspondence. But, as long as they pay their dues, I suppose who really cares. We have 4 repeaters in the area. One is used “frequently” (as in more than once per day), another is used infrequently (meaning there are two fellows who use it for a half hour every day) and the remaining two are very rarely used. But having said that, last weekend I visited the Toronto area and scanned all the repeaters a lot and heard nobody. Sad.

DMR Ontario

Our club is considering a DMR (Digital Mobile Radio) for our area. I did some research on the number of current users in Ontario and here are the results:

  • Total Radios Registered: 213
  • Total Unique Callsigns: 168

Many hams have registered multiple radios. But, I have 2 radios registered and I don’t even own one! So, I’m probably not the only one. I am going to say that (optimistically) 20% of those registered also don’t own a radio. That brings us to about 134 active hams using DMR.

There are 14 DMR repeaters in Ontario (one of these is on the DCI Network – don’t know if this matters) so that’s about 9.5 hams per repeater. Let’s not even factor in that some areas (Toronto, Barrie, etc) no doubt have more hams per repeater than other. A typical repeater setup includes a DMR repeater, an antenna, duplexers, coax, assorted other hardware. You can imagine a repeater costs about $3.000 (conservatively) not to mention the repeater site costs plus internet access which can add up to about (avg) $50/month or $600/yr. Add to the fact that Motorola wants $265 for 3 years for software.

So where does that leave us? Well, that works out to an initial outlay of about $300 per ham and an additional $90 per year per ham! Obviously, the more hams that share a repeater the less it will cost. In our case, there is a very limited user base (hams) that would actually use the system. For us having 4 active hams the cost is $750 each initially (and the individuals radio(s) on top of that – $180-$1000) then $175/yr to keep it all going. Is it worth it? Well, my cellphone bill is about $65/month or $780 per year which is about 4.5x as much as the repeater. Since I probably would use the repeater a lot I suppose I could justify it. But, for the occasional user, it wouldn’t be a good value in my opinion.

 

IRC Chat

Well I finally figured out how to make my IRC chat widget to open in a new tab. Good heavens it was SOOO easy too. Doh! Anyway, if you want to chat on IRC (and who wouldn’t?) you can now open it in a new tab/window and have a web based client. Very handy. If you’re a CKARC member, I’ll be on the #ckarc IRC channel during the Wednesday night net. Just sayin’

BTW, this is a full IRC client. All the usual things work: /nick, /join, /msg nickserv/chanserv, etc. Enjoy!

 

Threshing Festival

CKARC had the emergency response trailer at the local festival in Thamesville, Ontario the weekend of June 20,21. It was fairly well attended by the public although the crowds were not exactly “thronging”. However, we did manage to drum up some interest in ham radio. Three or four people seemed highly interested in becoming a ham. One ham from NFLD stopped by several times and it seems we have inspired him to go on the air more often. Win!

We did make a list of “stuff to do” for next years event (as well as other events) and also mods to the trailer in general. In the end, it was more of a learning experience but, all good. We may eventually mount a camera somewhere and send periodic EZPal pics either over a local repeater or on HF. We did think about a live internet stream but the lack of internet access is generally a problem. We seriously need business cards and/or pamphlets as we really had nothing to hand out as far as contact information.

At any rate, it was a lot of preparation and work but those involved (all seven of us) had a great time. To be sure, we all slept very well after the event.

VE3KCR Update

VE3KCR (147.120+ 100hzPL) now spans over 16,000 square kilometers – that’s about 4 MILLION acres! How much does YOUR repeater cover? Hmm?? Yes, I’m bragging but hey, it’s my prerogative. There are some areas that experience a little hetrodyning but for a non-GPS locked system, it’s not as bad as you’d think. What we’ve done is have the TX sites service “major” population centers with some of the not so populated areas in the hetrodyne areas. And, we added a non standard offset re-broadcaster in Chatham so there’s no hetrodyning anymore if one uses that repeater. So far, so good.

So, 146.680- noPL works as always – excellent. 145.190- noPL is also working excellent as is th UHF machine 444.325+ (250.3hzPL for IRLP). In fact, all of these repeaters have been “reset” so there’s a minimum of  ID’ing, and status reports in morse code. YAY!

Enjoy!

 

VE3KCR

Yesterday, the electronics package was installed at the North Chatham Site. This repeater is a full TX/RX unit tied into the simulcast system. A quick range test (a drive to Sarnia) reveals solid mobile coverage up to Sarnia. We were very pleased at the excellent signal at 35km away. However, this test made it abundantly clear that another cavity filter is required for the RX part – but we sort of knew that. It does tend to de-sense itself and luckily, our RX site situated around 38km away was taking up the slack for receive duty. It is an excellent RX site. However, H/T coverage is now possible in Wallaceburg.

So, after some tweaking (cavity filter, setting TX levels on the other sites, etc) it will work most excellent 🙂

 

CKARC Strikes Again!

Yesterday, May 10 / 2014, a group of hams from the Chatham-Kent Amateur Radio Club installed yet another repeater in the Chatham-Kent area. This site is called the North Chatham Site and should give coverage where no coverage has been before! Upon completion, it is expected to give excellent results into nearly Sarnia to the north, Florence to the east, New Baltimore, MI to the west and possibly the south shore of Lake St. Clair to the south. Combined with the other two (three?) sites, our goal of blanketing south-western Ontario with a single repeater frequency pair will be *that* much closer.

Hats off to those who participated: VE3KNI, VE3OEN, VA3TWT, VE3LFD, VE3RHV, VE3MUN and VE3UGG. Outstanding job by all. I don’t think we will have as many pictures as the East Chatham Site but believe me when I say it was another extremely professional job! All antennas in place and feed line run. All that’s left is the electronics and some additional “inside” work. Hopefully this can be accomplished by the end of next week (or earlier) and we will have a “full service” repeater linked to the simulcast system. Pretty amazing.

NOTE: Due to the fact that hams need to build and design towers, cases, brackets (and a myriad of other things) they (over the whole) do exceptional work not only in electronics but also in machining, carpentry, design and construction of nearly anything. Most hams are very knowledgable in many areas and highly ingenious (and cheap). And, in most any group of hams, you will be able to come up with virtually any sort of odds and ends of parts and materials. Just keep that in mind if there ever is a SHTF scenario!

 

Big News at CKARC!

Yesterday, a group of hams from the Chatham-Kent Amateur Radio Club installed a new transmit site in the eastern edge of the county. I have never been part of this process and, although it was a lot of work, it was also a lot of fun! Our “climber/installer” did an AWESOME JOB it 100 feet in the air. Yours truly could never have done what he did so hats off to this individual. My ‘elmer’ Bill also did an excellent job installing the radios and assorted electronics at the bottom. Another ham and myself were busy fetching tools and hoisting them to the installer. Man, that 4-bay VHF antenna is HEAVY!

http://www.ckarc.ca/images/EastSite/rptr_east.shtml

This project has certainly expanded the range of our repeater system. Where before you could barely hear the repeater it is now full scale and crystal clear! One or two more sites and we will once again have the premier repeater system in south western Ontario… yay!

 

The New CANWARN

We recently had a CANWARN “event” here in Chatham-Kent. Yep, high winds and hail. Luckily very little damage. The unfortunate thing was that very few hams in the area knew there was an alert on. One of our local hams sent out an email after the fact, asking how we could be better informed of these alerts. Pagers? An automated message on the repeater? Hmmm.

This set off a chain of events – a “flurry of activity” if you will with several hams independently arriving at basically the same idea. Some way to let the members know what is happening. Some hams took the hardware route trying to tap into the power of a cheap(ish) dedicated weather radio with built in SAME weather alerts and routing that to the repeater. I had a similar thought but of course using software. Realistically, both approaches will probably be needed.

So, after firing up Visual Basic and searching for various solutions, this is what my effort produced: I poll the Environment Canada website looking for an area alert. If I find one, my software alerts various members via email and/or text messaging to the CANWARN event. Next step is to send a specific .wav file to the repeater based on the type of alert. My system does depend on the internet true, but my theory is that this infrastructure will be in place before an actual disaster hits and now everyone will be prepared if the ‘net goes down.

We’re hoping that by using all of these hardware and software alert methods and using our soon to be wide area repeater system, we will have a world class CANWARN system with few rivals.


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