QRZ Logbook

Thursday, December 31, 2009

SKYWARN Recognition Day 2009

It's been a somewhat slow month for me being on the radio. After Lauren got her license things have been quiet.

I talked to her on the way home from work one evening. My friend Jason, KF4VDX jumped in and talked to her briefly, but other than that she's not had time to get on the air. She's doing homework or is at my mom's house, her friend's house, or my sister-in-law's and she's without a radio.

I'm looking to get her an HT as I promised her. I'm looking at a Yaesu or even a Chinese-made radio. I know, that whole thing with China and the economy but dammit if you can pick up a dual-bander for $95, you can't help but take it into consideration...

Another friend of mine lost his wife last month. I went to the receiving and paid my respects. I also found another friend who's been overseeing the SKYWARN activities for the NWS. His name is Ed Bradley, W4VGI. We talked (for the first time in 2+ years in person) and briefly discussed some issues that had occurred over the last 2 years. I won't go into detail, but he did invite me to the Morristown office for SKYWARN Recognition Day on December 5. I said I would look into it and asked him to let me know when he needed operators.

Fast forward to Friday, December 5.

I'm cruising my Facebook early in the evening and see someone post that they were headed to their weather service office for SKYWARN Recognition Day and I uttered a few curse words thinking (as I usually do) it was the next weekend. I got an email from him a couple of weeks before, and not surprising to me I forgot about it.

It had been 3 or 4 years since I participated (from the Morristown office, that is, although I worked a few stations from home one year) and was eager to get back up there. I called on the Morristown repeater to the ham station WX4MRX and found that Ed was there, and asked if he needed help. He eagerly accepted, and I got permission from the Mrs. and headed up to Morristown (an hour's drive from home).

When I arrived a couple of hams were on station and trying to make some contacts. It was a bit nostalgic coming back to the old place. The last time I remembered it, the actual station had 3 radios (Two 2m/440 dual-band Alincos and a 220 radio) and an APRS setup. I was pleased to see it has since been upgraded to include an HF station and additional radios on most VHF bands.

Gone are the two CRTs and in its place is one LCD with a switch to two different PCs, one for APRS, the other for internet. There are 3 Yaesu FT-8800R's for 2m/440 operation, the 220 radio (Alinco DR-235 MKIII), a Mirage B5018G amp, and Icom 718 HF rig with IT-100 Auto-tuner, and various meters and power supplies to keep the radios working. The new setup is off to the lower right, and a layout of the setup is below.

I was amazed at how much the station had changed since I last visited, but it was a pleasant surprise. Not to mention jealousy at the sophistication of the layout. The last thing I want to do is show a pic of my hamshack...

After Ed and I had a talk to catch up on the last couple of years, I got to it, trying to make contacts. I participated in the inaugural event 11 years ago and I had a very active evening, making contacts all over the US and locally. I had a great time and have worked them from Morristown off an on over the years.

Unfortunately it was not a good night on HF this time around as far as band conditions go. Everything from 10 to 20 meters was dead or dying, and 40 was noisy and polluted with the shortwave stations, and 80 was not active yet (unless you wanted to talk like a CBer on the usual outlets). I started on 20 and worked a few weather service stations, tried a few on 40, and 80 was no luck at all, even as I was wrapping up.

I only contacted about 20 stations on HF. In hindsight, I completely skipped over VHF. I could have hopped on the local repeaters and made some contacts that way (I forgot they were allowed) and completely ignored that fact.

Also, it appeared that Ed may have not submitted WX4MRX as a weather service station until it was too late, several stations were asking why we "weren't on the list".

Like Field Day, I'm thinking ahead to next year. Hopefully I'll be better prepared and I'll try to recruit some additional help for the graveyard shift. I had a couple of guys there for the first couple of hours, but they left and I was by myself until I left the weather service office at about 4am.

It's an interesting event and one I really enjoyed doing. Perhaps if I have enough time in advance I can take the family up to help participate. That would certainly bring out the hermits if they hear a female voice or even more so a kid's voice calling "CQ". Don't worry, I'll be sure to send them home before midnight.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Lauren's got a new callsign

Well less than 2 months after my daughter Lauren passed her ham test, she decided that KJ4QNH was not for her. Something about the letter "Q" she didn't care for.

So we applied for and got her a new callsign through the Vanity system.

She is now K4LRN. The suffix "LRN" is short for her name, something she liked when we looked at what callsigns were available.

I checked late Thursday evening and it was still pending, so either yesterday or today it went through.

Merry Christmas, Lauren!

EDIT: The expiration is on Christmas Day of 2019, so it did come into effect on Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Christmas present to you: How to renew your ham license for FREE! *

If you've been licensed for over 10 years, chances are you've received notices from companies offering to renew your license for a "minimal fee".

Well, I'm about to save you some money, because you don't have to pay a dime if you do it yourself*.

All you need to do is to go to the FCC's Universal License System (ULS) site and renew online.

A few "quick notes":
  • *If you have a vanity callsign (like I do) you will need to pay the vanity fee (currently $13.40 as of the posting of this article). This fee can also be paid online.
  • You cannot renew until it is 90 days before the date of expiration and up to 2 years after the expiry. If you wait to renew after the expiration date, you CANNOT transmit on amateur radio frequencies from the date of expiration until it appears in the ULS as renewed! If you wait until after the 2-year grace period, it cannot be renewed, you will need to take the Technician Class exam to get re-licensed.
  • This whole renewal process will NOT be instantaneous, it may take several days to process, so the sooner you fill out the renewal request during the 90-day window, the sooner it will get processed and you will not have to chance an interruption from using ham radio.
  • If filing online is still not for you, then you can still print and fill out the Form 605 and file via snail mail. That's free as well. Also, the ARRL will do it free for members, but Vanity calls are $13.40 + $5 for processing.
Find your FRN

You will need to know your FRN (FCC Registration Number) in order to renew. Don't know it? Don't worry, all you need to do is look it up on the ULS search page.

To search for your FRN:
  1. Go to the ULS main page.
  2. Under the "Search" area, click "Licenses".
  3. In the search page enter your callsign.
  4. Locate your callsign. Under the "FRN" column (in the center) is your FRN that you will need to log in and renew your license. Write it down!
If you already know your FRN and password, go to the login page, sign on, and wait for me down below. Otherwise, continue on...

Chances are, you've never had to use ULS before, since either you've been a ham for less than 10 years, or renewed it before ULS online renewal was enacted, let someone else do it for you, or you got a new callsign (due to vanity request or license upgrade) and the 10-year term was reset upon the issuance of the new callsign. Therefore when you get back to the ULS sign-on page, click "Register".

When you get there, you will have 3 options, click "Update" in the middle.

Personal Security Question

Now, if this is your first time using ULS, you probably have not set your Personal Security Question. If you have previously set up your Personal Security Question, skip to the next paragraph. If you have NOT set up a Personal Security Question, you will need to fill out an online request form and someone with the FCC will manually set this question and email you once complete. This may take a couple of days! To get to the request page, click the link that takes you to https://esupport.fcc.gov/password.htm.

On the next page, click "Set your Personal Security Question" and the next page is where you fill out the Personal Security Question you want to set.

You will need your FRN, enter your contact info, and provide a current email address, then set whatever you want for your Personal Security Question. You can either choose a preset question from the dropdown menu, or set one up that you alone will know.

Again, someone contracted with the FCC will set the question and answer you chose so once again write it down!

Reset your password

Once you have received your email from the FCC that the Personal Security Question has been set up (or you already know it and skipped the previous paragraph) you will need to set your FRN password.
  • From the ULS main page, click "Login", then go to the link to contact tech support, then click the link to reset your password.
  • Enter your FRN (you did write it down, didn't you?).
  • Answer the Personal Security Question you set up.
  • Enter your new password (minimum 6 characters, combination of letters, numbers, and special characters (I highly recommend you do NOT use your callsign (if it was a 2X3).
  • Once your password is reset you may get a notification from the FCC advising that your password was reset.
Time to Log in to the ULS

Hopefully you haven't given up hope and are not shilling out $5-10 for someone else to renew your license at this point. We're almost there, I promise!

You've gone through setting up your Personal Security Question and/or password, so now it's time to log in.
  • From the ULS main page, click "Login".
  • Enter your FRN (again, you did write it down somewhere?) and password.
  • You should now be viewing your information (callsign, address, etc.):
  • On the menu to the left, you will see a link to renew your license so click the link.
  • The next page will show your callsign in a box on the left (you should have "Eligible" selected above the box with your callsign). Click you callsign to highlight it, and the select the "Add" button in between. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click "Continue".
  • Follow the remaining instructions to finish the registration and submit once you are ready.
If you have a Vanity call, you will be prompted to pay the fee associated with renewing a Vanity callsign once the renewal application has been successfully received. It will be in a "pending" mode until the Vanity fee is paid. I plan cover that process in a later posting.

And that, my friends, is what they're charging you for. So now, if all has gone through successfully, you will be placed in the queue for renewal. It shouldn't take more than a couple of business days to get updated in the ULS but give it up to 10 business days before attempting to contact the FCC for an update. Check the ULS for your callsign and note the expiration date should now read 10 years from now. You should also receive an email confirmation.

I admit for some this may be too much, but if you stuck with it this far, you hopefully saved a bit of money. If not, then you're not out an incredible amount of money if you let someone else do it for you. But still, why pay someone else to do a job that you should be able to do on your own for free?

I'd love to hear from anyone who followed these directions and get some feedback one way or the other. Also, if you could proved additional screenshots (especially if you have to renew your Vanity) I would appreciate it, as I never thought to grab screen captures while renewing mine, but then again, this idea didn't occur to me until after the fact. If you have a sequential callsign that's due for renewal, I can try to help if possible. My email is gregk4hsm at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Morse Code keyer manufacturer moving to Knoxville

Today I found that Scott Robbins, W4PA was buying Vibroplex and moving the company here to Knoxville.

I met Scott at a RACK meeting several years back. He was working at Ten-Tec and was notorious as a contester (before retiring last year).

He was the guest speaker and gave an example recording showing how he can use two radios simultaneously to make contacts during contests. While tuning with one radio, he's making a contact on another. I don't know what he did for writing down the contacts...

It's good to know that there's some economic boost around here. Even if it's "ancient technology". Wonder if he's hiring?