News

Greetings from the High Country

This makes the 31st NC Section Newsletter which I produce twice a month as part of my promise to keep you informed about items of interest to amateur radio operators in the Old North State.

Everything is green up here but much of North Carolina badly needs rain.   On Sunday evening there was some rain up here and showers are possible each day this week, which is good news except for visitors who want to enjoy our outdoor activities here in the High Country.

A map is posted on the web each Tuesday by the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council (https://www.ncdrought.org).  The most recent map, dated June 1, shows that approximately 80% of North Carolina is abnormally dry or is experiencing drought conditions. 

Despite the adverse impact of the drought conditions on North Carolina agriculture, things could be worse.  The news Sunday night had a story about the drought in the western United States where the water levels in the major reservoirs are 50% lower than this time last year.  There will be a lot of hot weather and high demand for water as the United States swelter through summertime and things may get bad for large portions of the country.

FIELD DAY

June 26 and 27, which is the last weekend in June, is the time when hams across North America take to the airwaves and compete for scores based on how many contacts are made, how many transmitters are operated, their power and their power source.  Originally designed to be an opportunity to show skills in deploying stations with temporary antennas and operating on generators and batteries in preparation of a disaster, Field Day, in recent times, has mostly become a contest that draws the interest of groups that seek to compete against other groups for higher scores. 

As was the case last year, there are special, temporary rules, implemented due to COVID, that allow home stations to accumulate points while communicating with other home stations.  Groups can combine into their club scores points earned by home-based operators.  Details can be found at http://www.arrl.org/field-day.

If your group plans to participate in Field Day, be sure to have someone in your group to register the location of your Field Day operation so that visitors can stop by.  Register your Field Day operation on the web at http://www.arrl.org/field-day-locator.   I plan to visit several Field Day operations in western North Carolina and may be able to visit your site if you contact with your hours of operation and location.   

The ARRL Field Day location listing is a big help to new hams and persons to learn about operating a ham station.  Many groups have a GOTA (Get On The Air) stations, giving new Techs and others their first opportunity operate on HF.  If you are a new ham and still looking to find your way around in your new hobby, check the ARRL club listing (http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club) to find a nearby club.  Contact the club president (listed on the webpage) and tell them of your interest in getting involved.  Ask about Field Day and use this as an opportunity to get on the air, to learn about contesting, and to make new friendships.

Groups that plan to participate in Field Day are encouraged to publicize their Field Day activities.  ARRL has prepared materials that you can share with local media.  Any of the following items may be of use to you:

http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Field-Day/2021/2021%20ARRL%20Field%20Day%20-%20Public%20Relations%20Kit.docx

http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Field-Day/2021/2021%20ARRL%20Field%20Day%20-%20Public%20Relations%20Kit.pdf

http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Field-Day/2021/2021%20Field%20Day%20Poster-%20rev%20a.pdf

http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Field-Day/2021/ARRL%20RAC%20Section%20Checklist%202021.pdf

http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Field-Day/2021/ARRL%20Field%20Day%20Logo%202021.jpg

Please note that the FCC RF Exposure limits apply to Field Day stations put on the air after May 3, 2021.  Guidance on the FCC rule can be found at www.arrl.org/rf-exposure.  Be sure to look at the FAQ document that is mentioned in the Breaking News section of the posting just cited.  The FAQ can be downloaded by clicking on the link within the Breaking News portion of this site.

SUGAR AWARD #2 – GETTING KIDS INVOLVED IN HAM RADIO

On May 24, I travelled to the W.B. Beam Intermediate School in Cherryville, NC to recognize the efforts of Mark Reep, KI4RBI, in establishing a ham radio club at his school for 4th and 5th grade students.  Mark was able to secure Beam Family Foundation funding for equipment, coax and antennas to allow the students to operate station N2FRC which has been is now set up at the school.  What’s more, he encouraged the school principal to get licensed and become a General as KO4DQB. 

All these things made him and the school the second recipient of the SUGAR (Supporting Upgrading Growing Amateur Radio) Award.

I was able to present the club with a set of five issues of On the Air that were graciously furnished by Steve Ewald, WV1X, at ARRL HQ.  The students are excited by their ability to talk to hams around the country and in other parts of the world.  Most definitely, they were proud to have their club recognized.  Photos from my visit can be found at the ncarrl.org webpage but the ARRL email system does not allow me to include them in the email from ARRL.  However, they are included in the Word version of the newsletter that I also distribute to friends and others who may not be able to receive the ARRL emails.

Ham radio needs to do more to encourage kids to get excited about electronics and ham radio.  I urge clubs across the state to consider donating books or a radio magazine subscription to schools within their area.  There are great opportunities for experienced hams to become Elmers for young people.  Contact your local School Principal and offer the assistance of your club in helping get a teacher licensed who, in turn, can start a school radio club like the one that KI4RBI set up.  I would bet that there are large numbers of older but functional transceivers sitting off on the side in many of our shacks that would be great for donation to a school. 

This is your opportunity to get the next generation of hams on the air and carry the hobby forward.  Who knows how many of these students will become scientists, engineers, and teachers?  You can help make it happen!

FCC MATTERS

A reminder that the FCC requires amateur radio applicants to:

a.         Obtain and enter an FRN (Federal Registration Number) on applications

b.         File their email address with the FCC.

c.          Certify that the applicant has not been convicted of a felony.

No action has been taken on these pending FCC matters:

•          Granting HF voice privileges for Technicians.

•          Repealing the symbol rate rule and allow Pactor 4 on ham frequencies.

•          Establishing sub-bands reserved for use of wide digital modes on 70 and 40 meters.

ARRL MATTERS

I received an email on Thursday indicating that the ARRL Executive Committee will meet on June 8.  A copy of the agenda was included in the email but is not posted on the ARRL webpage for general members to access. 

Members are reminded that they can edit their email preferences to received agendas and minutes of Board Meetings and other information from ARRL.  Log in to arrl.org and on the top right under your name, click on the link “edit your profile”.  This link will allow you to choose to receive emails about contests, propagation, as well as to choose to receive On the Air, NCJ (the Contest Journal) and QEX which is focused towards experimenters.

EmCOMM TRAINING MATTERS

Greg Hauser, W3FIE, Statewide Interoperability Coordinator with NC EM has announced that there will be four opportunities for interested amateur radio operators to complete the Auxcomm course which is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security.  Keep your eye peeled for the following activities:

  1. Auxcomm Course (to be held concurrently with a COML course) in Wilmington August 10-12.
  2. Auxcomm in September (in either Avery/Caldwell or Chatham/Moore).  Logistics are being worked out and the site will be chosen depending upon which location can offer the necessary facilities (social distance, internet and can make the space available for a Friday, Saturday and Sunday course).
  3. Auxcomm in October (at whichever venue isn’t selected for September).
  4. Auxcomm as part of the Charlotte Disaster Comms School on December 13-17.

Persons who want to enroll in the Auxcomm course must hold a valid amateur license and have completed the current version of the four on-line FEMA ICS courses (ICS 100c, 200c, 700b, and 800d).  There are no exceptions to the ICS course requirements.  Many people report that they were able to complete the four courses on a single rainy afternoon. 

Comm Exercises where individuals with NC-issued Auxcomm Task Books can be worked on and at least be partially completed at:

  • Wilmington, as part of the COML/Auxc classes on August 13
  • Morganton, as part of River Flood Exercise August 27, 28, 29.
  • Dupont Rescue Experience near Brevard, in November but dates not finalized.
  • Charlotte Disaster Comms School, December 17.

Remember that the appropriate Task Book to be working on is the one issued by the SWIC (Greg Hauser, W3FIE) to those persons who have completed the Auxcomm course.   Copies printed from the  web and those lacking a cover page issued by the SWIC do not count for credentialing.   The ARRL ARES Task Book is not recognized by any state or territory in the United States and is not accepted in the credentialing process.

Completion of a Position Task Book involves demonstrating the ability to complete each of the tasks listed in the PTB at some time during two exercises and two real world incidents.  Signatures from four credentialed Type III All Hazard Incident Management Team COML’s are required for a PTB to be considered complete. All four COM-L’s do not have to witness each task and each task does not have to be demonstrated at each incident or exercise.

The Auxcomm course is offered when there is sufficient local interest and has been requested by the local county Emergency Manager who contacts NCEM SWIC Greg Hauser (greg.hauser@ncdps.org). Greg has stated on several occasions that Auxcomm is the COMU course most frequently requested by the local Emergency Managers.  If you want a course in your area, build a relationship with local EM official and ask him or her to request the course through EM channels.  As an indication of the value placed on Auxcomm by NCEM, the state covers expenses for Auxcomm students under Travel Reimbursement policies that apply to fire, rescue and EM personnel enrolling in courses offered through NC EM.

Once a course is listed on TERMS, anyone seeking admission to the Auxcomm course must hold a valid amateur radio license and have certificates for completion of the current version of ICS courses (100c, 200c, 700b and 800d).  No exceptions on these prerequisites will be granted.  Go to https://terms.ncem.org to register.

Previous Auxcomm classes have resulted in relationships between trained Auxcomm operators and local EM that led to counties purchasing and installing radio equipment in their EOC’s that can be operated on amateur and SHARES frequencies to  transmit voice and Winlink traffic when normal communications are disrupted.

UPDATES ON THE NC PRN DMR DIGITAL NETWORK

PRN (ncprn.net) is a system that links 60 digital DMR repeaters in North Carolina and South Carolina.   The system operation in 2010 when three people (Ralph Bartlett – W4ZO, Shane Autrey – KI4M and Danny Hampton – K4ITL) put up their DMR repeaters and connected them using the Mototrbo network architecture that was then available.  Use of DMR by hams was extremely limited at that time.  At that time, up to fifteen client repeaters could be connected to a “master”.  All of the client repeaters downstream were limited to the talkgroups available to the master.New portables and mobiles were expensive and there were few users but the idea of having repeaters that could carry two conversations and connect to other repeaters across the country was intriguing.

Each year, additional repeaters were added in North Carolina by individual amateurs.  In South Carolina, John Crocket, W3KH (SK), secured Homeland Security funding that was used to purchase equipment needed to add a dozen DMR repeaters and created a digital portion to the SCHEART system (scheart.us) which is now part of the PRN system.

With the development of CBridges, the limit of fifteen repeaters was eliminated because CBridges (which are network servers) could be set up so that repeaters could access different local, regional, national and international talkgroups.    The CBridge is sort of “connection central” with various talkgroups and a large number of repeaters can access a variety of talkgroups carried by the CBridge without affecting what other repeaters carry.

Furthermore, the availability of relatively inexpensive (compared to new commercial) radios along with huge increases in channel capacity lit a fire that quickly took off.   As a point of reference, I got my first DMR radio in 2013 and there were about 30 people in North Carolina that I could talk to if I was in range of one of the six DMR repeaters at that time.   Today, there are over 2200 radio id’s assigned to DMR users in North Carolina.  The availability of hotspots that connect to home and vehicular wifi’s opened DMR to people all around the world.  Today, there are approximately 185,000 users across the world with DMR user ID numbers.

DMR uses Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) and repeaters can carry two conversations simultaneously.   In the PRN system, timeslot 2 is reserved for system-wide traffic and traffic on the PRN talkgroup lights up all of the NC and SC PRN repeaters and transmits that traffic over each of them.  In addition, each repeater also can handle completely unrelated traffic on time slot 1.  In the PRN system, timeslot 1 is used for local, on demand chats and an echotest that allows a user to hear their own signal for testing.  Normally the local talk group is carried over a single repeater but can be linked to the local talkgroup on another repeater to create an ”area local” without lighting up all the repeaters in the PRN system. 

Dozens of NC users kerchunking the worldwide and North America talkgroup tied up the network  and those talkgroups have become nearly incessant in their activity .  As a result they have been dropped from the PRN system in North Carolina and South Carolina.  Amateurs who want to use a portable radio can buy a hotspot ($50 to $350 in cost) and have world-wide communications.

I use a portion of the PRN system to hold the High Country UHF Digital Net each Tuesday night at 8 p.m.  The CBridge (server) is set up to automatically link the local talkgroup on Roanoke, Wytheville, Fancy Gap,   West Jefferson, Wilkesboro, Boone, Lenoir, Sugartop, Spruce Pine, Crowders (Gastonia), Bearwallow (Hendersonville), Sylva and Franklin.  Very soon, a new repeater will be put up near Albemarle and will become part of the PRN system as well as be linked on the High Country UHF Digital Net. 

If you have a DMR radio and are in range of any of the PRN repeaters listed above, feel free to join us on the High Country UHF Digital Net which ends no later than 9 p.m. when the linking is terminated.  In addition to the scheduled linking, changes made in the programming of the PRN CBridge in the past few weeks allow the linking to be activated on demand.  It is expected that this will be very useful to Auxcomm during wide area emergencies within the Western Branch.

In the next newsletter issue, there will be information about two other DMR systems in North Carolina that cover defined geographic portions of the state.  One is based in Greenville and covers a large portion of eastern North Carolina while the WNC system includes repeaters in Morganton, Marion, Asheville, Hendersonville, Waynesville, Cashiers and Franklin.

MISCELLANEOUS MATTERS

There will be a Technician Class for Scouts that will be held at the American Legion in Wake Forest on July 10, 17 and 24 with a license exam on July 24.  Scouts who complete the course will earn the Radio Merit Badge.  Go to w4ecc.com for information and to sign up.

I posted incorrect information about the Knoxville Hamfest in the last newsletter.  The correct date is June 19 and information can be found at http://www.w4bbb.org/knoxville-hamfest

CLOSING COMMENT

The past few weeks have included several patriotic days.  On Memorial Day, May 31, we honored the sacrifices of service members who died in defense of our country over more than two centuries of service.

On June 6, we marked the 77th anniversary of the Allied Forces’ amphibious landing on five beaches on the French coast which was crucial in the defeat of Nazism and the preservation of the democracies.  The beach landing involved 132,000 soldiers, sailors and marines as well as 24,000 troops who were airdropped into occupied France as part of the invasion to break the grip of Germany on Europe.  Operation Overlord had tragic costs and 4,414 Allied Troops died that day fighting against oppression and evil but their sacrifices were essential to winning the war in Europe.

Next week, on June 14, we each can honor the American flag which symbolizes our common purpose and has meant so much to those who have defended it at great cost.  Flag Day commemorates the official adoption of the Flag on the United States on June 14, 1777 by act of the Second Continental Congress. 

Thank you to the heroes in our military who each day stand watch, are in combat, and in support roles defending our country and our way of life.  The American Flag means so much to each of  us. 

I hope everyone who reads this newsletter will proudly fly their American Flag on June 14.

73, Marv