Welcoming Students Back to Campus

MSUARC FlierWhen students return to the residence halls this year, they will find a special welcome from MSUARC. We’re papering the dorms with a flier, directed both at licensed and unlicensed Spartans, inviting them to visit our social sites and join the family.

Getting youth excited about our essential avocation is a challenge when so many other things compete for their time and attention. But we are undaunted! With new gear and new energy in the club, we’re excited about all that we have to offer.

The flier features a Yaesu FT-2DR handheld, the state of the art for those interested in operating both in analog and Fusion digital modes.

Remote Rig Update

The Kenwood TS480 Base UnitOne of MSUARC’s goals for the 2016-17 school year is making W8SH more accessible to more students. In a world where we like to take our technology with us, creating an opportunity to remotely control an operating position was a natural step.

To create a portable experience, the Shack Upgrade Team selected the Kenwood TS480SAT and the Remote Rig 1258 MKII system. Kenwood’s popular HF radio includes a built-in antenna tuner and a control head that connects via cable to an RJ12 jack on the base unit. The Remote Rig 1258 features an ethernet connected base unit and a WiFi enabled remote box with easy connections for both the control unit and microphone.

The Kenwood TS480SAT Control HeadThe gear was acquired and tested on August 14 via a 59 contact with a Maryland QSO Party contestant. Engineering IT generously provided us with a dedicated IP address and configured the control box so that students can connect from anywhere on campus.

Testing was done both on and off campus today and the results were excellent. Check out the YouTube video, below for a taste of how things sounded on a day when the bands were pretty poor. That’s a West Virginia station on 40 meters.


Getting Ready for Fall!

IMG_1440What a summer it’s been! We learned last month that we were again the top university club in the Michigan QSO Party, returning the “Ole Log” to East Lansing in our ongoing, friendly rivalry with our friends in Ann Arbor. Our members chased literally hundreds of hams who “activated” scores of National Parks in the ARRL’s National Parks On the Air contest. And returning students will find our shack transformed with some cool new gear.

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 8.45.55 PMIn August we installed a brand new Yaesu DR-1X Repeater, becoming the first entity in the area to support both the C4FM Fusion digital standard and classic analog FM simultaneously. (See a photo album of the project here.)

Kenwood TS480SATThe Shack Upgrade Team also purchased a Kenwood TS-480SAT and associated equipment from RemoteRig.com to make it possible for students to check out a tranceiver control head and opearate remotely from any area on campus with WiFi. This marks a new era in amateur radio at Michigan State, extending the on air experience beyond the confines of 2121 Engineering Building. A network of remote accessible rigs is envisioned, over time, expanding the locations, students, and ultimately alumni can access from wherever they might be.

We plan another appearance at MSU’s “Sparticipation” this fall, demonstrating all that’s cool about ham radio to students in search of extracurricular activities. Contact us if you’d like to help.

Ham Radio 101: Working Amateur Satellites

Current ISS position via Heavens-Above.com

Few things in the hobby are more exciting than talking to the world with an HT. D-STAR, DMR, IRLP and Echolink have made this possible via internet connectivity but you can also do it directly, via satellite.

Working the heavens is easier than you might think. Here is a great reourse to get you started.

Work-Sat.com – One of the best all around websites for amateur satellite enthusiasts. If amateur radio icons like Bob Heil, K9EID and Gordon West, WB6NOA recommend it, you know it’s good.

The site is hosted by Clint Bradford, K6LCS, who is also a good guy to know if you need help programming your rig.

DMR for Beginners

Screen-Shot-2016-06-08-at-10.12.33-PMOne of the hottest sellers at Dayton in 2016 was the Tytera MD-380 handheld UHF radio. At just over $100 dollars it opened the door for many more hams to explore Digital Mobile Radio (DMR). There are a lot of great web resources to learn about DMR. So this piece will be brief, just enough to whet your appetite and give you some places to go to learn more.

There are a number of digital technologies hams use for voice communications. P25, D-Star, Fusion and DMR are three of the more well known. Each has it’s pros and cons but over the last year, DMR has emerged as one of the most popular digital protocols for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the standard is open and there are a lot of manufacturers making radios. So it can be inexpensive to get involved.

D-Star, for example, has largely been the province of Icom. In the past, you’ve typically had to rely on Icom radios and repeaters, although smart hams have figured ways to leverage the D-Star infrastructure with things like DVAPs and hot-spots. There are DMR radios available at about 1/4 the price of a comparable Icom rig.

DMR repeaters have been almost exclusively Motorola machines due to the ways that hams interconnect them with one another. Both DMR and D-Star have functionality which allows many people to converse within a series of common audio chat rooms. DMR nomenclature calls these Talk Groups. D-Star calls them reflectors. In Echolink language, they are conference servers. Their allure is that it’s possible to talk with someone on the other side of the continent and around the world with a low power handheld, regardless of sunspot conditions.

The hard work in the DMR world is the upfront time spent programming your radio to work within the system. DMR uses a combination of codes that are programmed into radio memory via something called a Code Plug. Local DMR groups often distribute code plugs for various makes of radios, making it easy to quickly program your radio for use on local DMR repeaters.

Your radio is identified by a numeric identification code which can be obtained through the DMR-MARC organization. Once you get the code, you add that to your code plug. This identifies your radio and admits it to the DMR-MARC network.

Within the code plug are numbers associated with popular talkgroups that are local, statewide, regional, national and international in scope. Radio memory also allows for programming a variety of zones into your rig which allows you to easily reorient your radio, depending on where you may travel. I grabbed a codeplug for Jacksonville, Florida from the excellent First Coast DMR group when we were visiting our kids, input my radio ID and was up and running quickly when we headed south recently. When we returned to East Lansing, reseting the radio was as easy as plugging it into my laptop and reloading the MI5 code plug.

Which brings up another point. You’ll need software and a computer to program your rig, or an appropriately equipped friend nearby who is willing to help get you going. Motorola radios require expensive, proprietary programming software, but there are a number of solutions that can save you from having to make the investment. With the plethora of new manufacturers in the DMR space, you’ll find that people like Tytera and Connect Systems provide the programming software for free.

There is a learning curve to understand how DMR works, especially programming code plugs. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be DMRing with the best of them with confidence. The audio quality is great and your ability to talk to interesting people well beyond the typical range of the local FM repeater is great fun.

So give it a whirl! On VHF/UHF, all you need is a Technician license and you’ll soon be talking to the world. If you’re in Michigan, look for me on the MI5 Network – Statewide2 Talkgroup. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that your radio can also be programmed to work with the analog FM machines in your area. DMR rigs were originally made for commercial use, so the dual-banders we’re used to that handle both 2 meters and 70 cm aren’t widely available yet. That’s ok, because in most places, DMR can be found almost exclusively on 44o, so you’ll only need a 70cm rig to get rocking.

Learn more about DMR through the links, below. And I hope to hear you on the digital airwaves soon!

The Ham Radio 360 Podcast on DMR