Get to Know the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network

One of the fastest-growing areas of ham radio is mesh networking. You can think of it as homebrew WiFi — using the amateur radio spectrum to create a WiFi network without relying on the normal Internet infrastructure of phone and cable companies. Several SPARC members are active in a regional effort to build a robust mesh network that can transmit data when the Internet isn’t available during an emergency. (It also comes in handy out in the Nevada desert.)

If you’d like to know more about mesh and what it can do, two of our resident experts recommend this episode of Ham Radio Now. It features an interview with members of the AREDN group (Amateur Radio Emergency Network), the organization that maintains the mesh software of the same name. Take a look, then stop by one of our monthly meetings to talk about building your own mesh go kit.

Go Digital at Ham Basics 102 on July 28

SPARC treasurer Oliver K6OLI writes:

Our long awaited NBEMS (Fldigi) and Winlink Basics Workshop has been scheduled for July 28, 2018, that is Activity Day, at Huntington Memorial Hospital from 9:00 am to 1:00pm! Our goal is to enable participants to send and receive messages using Fldigi/Flmsg and Winlink and understand current best practices for both.

For more information, and if you would like to register, please use this link:
https://ham-basics-102.eventbrite.com

Tho goal of this workshop is to provide radio operators with experience and a deeper understanding of using NBEMS/Fldig and Winlink Packet for emergency communications. There will be hands-on exercises for those who want to try out their setups.

Any licensed amateur radio operator is welcome to join! We do ask that you familiarize yourself with your own radio beforehand, i.e. understand how to enter simplex and repeater frequencies and change power levels.

Thank you and 73,
Oliver K6OLI

April Meeting Recap: Digital Modes and Baker to Vegas

We had a full house at tonight’s monthly SPARC meeting, which featured two informative presentations.

Tim's presentation

Understanding digital radio

Tim WA0PTC explained the pros and cons of the three major digital radio modes: D-STAR, C4FM/Fusion and DMR. Eric K6EJC added that, based on the volume of business he sees at Ham Radio Outlet, DMR growth has soared in the past two years. Bob WB6YJJ and Rick KI6ZKM demonstrated the vocal clarity of Fusion using their handhelds.

IMG_1341.jpg

How hams help B2V run smoothly

Oliver K6OLI reported on his service as a volunteer at the annual Baker to Vegas relay race — as he put it, “a near Death Valley experience.” With no cell service for huge stretches of the race, amateur radio is vital to the safety of over 8,000 runners, guests, family members and support staff.

AREDN mesh kit

Example mesh deployment

B2V also presented an opportunity to test mesh networking capabilities. Thanks to a portable Verizon satellite link, Oliver and his team were able to connect their laptops and VoIP phones to the regional mesh networks in Altadena, Pasadena and Sierra Madre. This has exciting implications for the future of emergency communications since mesh go kits are fairly inexpensive and extremely portable.

Our May 2 meeting is scheduled to feature John Vidale, Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center. On June 6 our guest will be an administrator from our local FEMA district. Hope to see you there — any changes will be posted on SouthPasRadio.org. 73!

End of an Era at Voice of America

This post was written by SPARC’s Oliver Dully, K6OLI.

Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott will retire from the Voice of America on June 23, 2017, after thirty-two years as audience research analyst and broadcaster.

Therefore, the last VOA Radiogram will be the weekend of June 17-18. There is no word on a replacement, if any.

VOA Radiogram

As a new ham the VOA Radiogram has been of immeasurable value to my understanding of HF propagation, antenna setups and using SDRs like websdr.org or RTL-SDR. But most importantly VOA Radiogram was my gateway to Fldigi, providing a stable and reliable platform to experiment with, and learn about the many settings and modes.

For hams focused on emergency communications, VOA Radiogram has been a one-of-a-kind training opportunity, increasing our skills and allowing for experimentation, all of which ultimately benefits our served agencies and therefore the communities in which we live and operate.

Moreover, hams without HF capabilities or licensing found VOA Radiogram useful because they had to think out of the box, using SDR dongles, shortwave receivers, or web-based SDRs to access the digital transmissions with Fldigi. By demonstrating capabilities such as fast transmission of text and even image transfers over long distances, Dr. Elliott has inspired many hams to upgrade their license and their stations.

I want to thank Dr. Elliott for his work and dedication. The VOA Radiogram has been one of the most valuable and useful transmissions over the airwaves. I also want to express my hope that VOA will continue a regular schedule of digital transmissions via Fldigi. The benefits for the community and its preparedness are immense.

For those  who want to try VOA Radiogram during the remaining transmissions:

  • set Fldigi to use your computer’s internal soundcard
  • find an SDR that covers the band you want on websdr.org (UTwente SDR will work best for most people)
  • and tune to the frequency at the correct time using AM.

Fldigi will pickup the transmission from your computer speakers and decode the signal through the internal microphone. You can watch and read it as it happens. (Those of you with appropriate HF capability will be able to tune as you normally would and decode acoustically or via your soundcard interface.)

Here is the schedule for the next few weekends in Pacific Time:

Sat 0900-0930 17580 kHz
Sat 1930-2000 5745 kHz
Sun 1230-1300 15670 kHz
Sun 1330-1400 11580 kHz
Sun 1630-1700 11580 kHz

You can find the program, official schedule in UTC and further information on http://voaradiogram.net.

73,
Oliver K6OLI

Learn Fldigi at Our April 5 Meeting

Fldigi released a major update on March 28, and Oliver K6OLI has updated his online guide to cover the new version.

At our next monthly meeting — Wednesday, April 5, 19:30 at the EOC — Oliver will give a brief hands-on introduction to Fldigi. All are welcome, and you don’t have to bring anything other than your curiosity. But feel free to you bring a laptop and HT and practice with us. Oliver will guide everyone through the set up and demonstrate how to send and receive messages.

You can download and install the software for your operating system here:

  • Windows or Mac
    Download and install fldigi, flmsg and flwrap.
  • Android
    Download and install AndFlmsg. (Detailed instructions for Android are provided here)

For experienced users, the meeting will be a good opportunity to upgrade, test and double check your setup with the new version Fldigi 4.0.1.

Winlink: Email Over Radio

At our January 4, 2017 meeting, SPARC president Bob Vanderwall WB6YJJ presented a video on the benefits of Winlink. Here is a simple definition of Winlink taken from its Wikipedia page:

Winlink is a worldwide radio messaging system that uses amateur-band radio frequencies to provide radio interconnection services that include email with attachments, position reporting, weather bulletins, emergency relief communications, and message relay.

The most common use of Winlink is sending email from an area where the Internet is unavailable. During an emergency that knocks out Internet access, Winlink can get a message to loved ones and other contacts. This powerful communication resource is an all-volunteer effort administered by a group called the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation Inc. Our Northeast section of ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) uses Winlink as part of its preparedness plans.

With a relatively small investment in equipment (typically an external sound card and free software such as Winlink Express), amateur radio operators can get up and running. Over the course of 2017, SPARC will continue to discuss how to set up and use Winlink at our monthly meetings .

This video by Rick Frost K4REF is a great introduction to Winlink. Rick has posted a series of videos on various aspects of the system on his YouTube page.

Once you’re ready to give Winlink a try, here are recommended node frequencies for the San Gabriel Valley:
VHF
145.050 MHz, 1200 baud
W6GSW-10 (Alhambra)
KA6ECT-10 (Pasadena)
W6SGB-10 (San Gabriel)

UHF
431.125 MHz, 9600 baud:
W6GSW-10
KA6ECT-10