The ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event concluded on December 31, 2016. During this year-long event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS), Amateur Radio operators set up their stations in NPS units to make contacts with other stations at home.
1494 hams participated as “activators” by setting up stations in the parks, and almost 17,000 participated by making contacts with them. A total of just over 1.1 million individual two-way contacts resulted. I closed out the year with a total of 59 activations, putting me in 64th place nationwide. I made contact with 329 different parks, giving me a ranking of 386th place out of those 17,000.
The March 2017 issue of QST contains an excellent article summarizing the year’s activity, and it is available for free PDF download at the ARRL website.
Even though NPOTA has now ended, there was a great deal of interest in continuing it in some fashion. The activity isn’t as frenzied, but many hams are continuing to get out to the parks and do activations as part of World Wide Flora and Fauna in Amateur Radio (WWFF). WWFF is a very similar concept to NPOTA, but as the name implies, it is worldwide.
The program got its start in about 2008 in Russia by the Russian Robinson Club, and has been very popular in Australia and Europe. During my activations, there were a number of familiar European stations who kept working me, undoubtedly as part of the WWFF program. With the tie-in to NPOTA, the North American chapter of WWFF has achieved similar popularity.
While NPOTA focused on National Parks and other NPS properties, WWFF includes many other parks, including most state parks in the United States. I haven’t been on the air yet from the parks, but in addition to the local NPS units I was able to activate in 2016, I can now do similar operations from other metro area locations, such as William O’Brien State Park, Fort Snelling State Park, and Afton State Park, as well as from most of the other state parks in Minnesota and surrounding states.
Most of my activations during 2016 focused on metro-area parks, but some of them, such as my activations of the Lewis & Clark Trail and the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, were done in conjunction with business travel. Great minds obviously think alike, as shown by Vance, N3VEM‘s recent activation of a metropolitan park in Florida while traveling for business.
As he details at his blog, he recently had a business trip to Florida from his home in Pennsylvania. He immediately began researching parks in the area, and discovered Oleta River State Park, which is actually located minutes from downtown Miami. Rather than book a stay in a more conventional hotel, he rented a rustic cabin at the park, which allowed him do his activation after work. He packed his FT-857, which is almost identical to the FT-817 I used for most of my activations, the difference being that his radio puts out 100 watts as opposed to my 5 watts. His complete station set up in the cabin is shown at the left. His antenna consisted of dipoles for 40 and 20, shown below.
One of the major successes of the NPOTA program was to encourage hams to learn new operating techniques. In particular, many hams discovered that Morse code (CW) can be extremely effective if conditions are marginal or if the station is less than optimum. Because NPOTA focused on portable operations, most of the activators were using stations that were less than optimal. For that reason, more than one ham discovered or rediscovered how effective CW can be, even with extremely simple equipment.
It looks like that tradition is continuing with WWFF, since N3VEM became one of the hams to discover CW. Vance has been licensed only since 2014, and by the time he got his license, the requirement to pass a code test to get a license had been gone for a number of years. But even though it’s no longer required, it’s still permitted, and he used this activation to make his first ever CW contacts. And his very first CW contact was with me!
To show how versatile CW can be, it should be pointed out that Vance didn’t even have a key with him. But like my radio, his allows the microphone to be used as an emergency key, and he used the mike buttons to send the dots and dashes. When I worked him, the band conditions between Florida and Minnesota were very poor, and I could barely hear his signal. It would have been absolutely impossible to work him using voice. But with CW, it was a fairly easy contact, despite his signal being almost completely buried in the noise.
Our first CW QSO was very slow, probably about 5 words per minute. But I’m sure he’ll discover that speed will increase rapidly as he gets on the air, and I have no doubt that I’ll have future CW QSO’s with him.
Eighty years ago, consumers buying a new radio had come to expect that they could trade in the old set. This presented a headache for the retailer, since any sale of the used set would probably cut into sales of new sets. The trade press often contained pointers on what to do with these old sets, such as donating them to charitable organizations, or selling them in bulk to other dealers, hopefully in another town, so that they would be another market’s problem.
The October 1936 issue of Radio Retailing included this graphic to help salesman convince buyers that they would be better off having two sets.
The page was designed to be shared with customers, and noted that “many questions asked by the consumer are difficult to answer because of his limited technical knowledge and inability to visualize.” Thus, the graphic was easier to understand, “and most people believe much of what they see in print.” Thus, graphics such as this one were printed to assist the salesman close a deal by “picturing the answer to a specific question which introduces selling resistance.”
This page notes that the old radio is worth more than the maximum trade-in value any dealer could allow, and suggests four uses for the old set. First, it could be moved to the playroom, allowing the parents to “duck the kid’s programs without breaking their hearts.”
Another viable option would be the bedroom. The magazine notes that it could be connected to an automatic time switch for a musical alarm.
In the kitchen, “any good serviceman can remove the chassis and build it in” for a truly modern kitchen.
The final use would be in the “whoopee room,” where we see a group playing ping pong and enjoying cool beverages, listening to the old set which has been “painted, in color, for that modernistic touch.”
During the 2016 ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event, Amateur Radio operators are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) by setting up their equipment in NPS units to make contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, the event has been extremely popular, with over 13,000 activations from 450 different different units of the NPS and over 700,000 individual two-way contacts. As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with 281 different parks and operated multiple times from six parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
One of the event’s successes has been encouraging visits to the parks. Until recently, my activations have been confined to the NPS units in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Last week, I had to be in Sioux City, Iowa, for one of my continuing legal education programs. The city lies along the path taken by Lewis and Clark as the traveled from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean, and is therefore part of an NPS unit, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Because the trail’s sheer length, and because it passes through so many other notable sites, it is the NPOTA’s most popular activation site, with over 13,000 individual contacts made. Since my son had recently been studying Lewis and Clark in school, I decided to bring him along.
Sioux City marks the point where the only death during the 1804-06 Corps of Discovery’s expedition took place. Sgt. Charles Floyd is buried under a prominent obelisk on a bluff overlooking the river. The Sioux City riverfront contains two museums devoted to Lewis and Clark’s journey. The first is in a drydocked former riverboat, the M/V Sergeant Floyd. The ship was an Army Corps of Engineers Inspection Vessel. Interestingly, the ship contains a ham station, although it’s supposed to be a recreation of the ship’s radio room. As you can see from the photo below, the radio room is equipped with an E.F. Johnson Viking Valiant and a Hallicrafters S-40. Even though these amateur rigs appear to be out of place, it was interesting to see this inadvertent ham station set up.
The second museum on the riverfront is the Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, which includes animatronic versions of Lewis, Clark, President Jefferson. and “Seaman,” the expedition’s Newfoundland dog.
Conditions were relatively poor the day I visited the site, and my initial attempt with a mobile antenna was unsuccessful. Since the day was nice, I returned and set up a dipole at a picnic shelter overlooking the river and made ten contacts on 20 meter CW.
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During the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is conducting its National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event. Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, the event has been extremely popular, with over 11,000 activations from 450 different different units of the NPS (with only 39 not yet activated), with over 640,000 individual two-way contacts. As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with 251 different parks, operated multiple times from six parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and plan to activate additional parks in the Midwest before the end of the year.
Even though this event is recent, operating portable from the National Parks is nothing new, as shown from the photograph above, which appeared seventy years ago this month in the September 1946 issue of Radio News.
Shown here are members of the Washington Radio Club operating Field Day 1946 from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Shown here are Dick Houston, W4QPW (apparently at the mike), along with Major Eric Ilott, G2JK, of the British Army (later VE3XE), and club secretary Barbara Houston. They are operating a 25 watt phone rig on 10 meters, with a Hallicrafters Sky Champion serving as the receiver. Power was supplied by a 300 watt gasoline generator.
Ilott, apparently at the left in the photo, served in the British and Canadian military until his retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1974. He immigrated to Canada in 1947. During the war, he served as a listener for the British War Office, sending reports to Bletchley Park. Among his accomplishments after the war was bringing the first ever television signal to Kingston, Ontario, from an antenna atop a water tower. He died in 2015 at the age of 95. (For another look at the early days of bringing distant TV signals to town, please see my earlier post on the first TV in Marathon, Ontario.)
1946 was the tenth running of the ARRL Field Day, an event in which hams set up stations at portable locations to make as many contacts as possible.
I previously wrote about the 1941 Field Day, in which the high scoring station had made 1112 contacts. That would be the last Field Day before the war, and the one shown here was the first postwar Field Day. According to the results in the February 1947 issue of QST, the top 1946 scorer made 809 contacts.
But the results article noted that it would be pointless to compare the 1946 results with those of prewar Field Days, since operating conditions as of June 1946 were quite different. In particular, hams had not yet regained access to the 160, 40, and 20 meter bands, which had been the workhorses for the prewar events. The 1946 Field Day was limited to 80 and 10 meters on HF, along with the 50, 144, and 420 MHz bands.
Shenandoah was not the only national park being activated in 1946. In addition, according to the results article, there were operations from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and a battlefield national park in Virginia, as well as numerous other venues.
While the Washington Radio Club took the honors of activating Shenandoah National Park in 1946, my own 2016 contact took place on February 8 on 20 meter phone. Fortunately, the 20 meter band was returned to hams shortly after the war, as the contact on 10 or 80 meters in 1946 would have been considerably more challenging. My contact was with Kay Craigie, N3KN, shown here. In addition to being an avid NPOTA chaser, activator, and member of the NPOTA Facebook group, Kay is the immediate past president of the ARRL (a select group which included Herbert Hoover, Jr.). She was at the helm of the ARRL when the NPOTA event was proposed and adopted.
Last week, I did two National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. I did both of them from William O’Brien State Park in Minnesota. My station consisted of my Yaesu FT-817, powered by a 12 volt sealed lead acid fish finder battery, The antenna consisted of a Hamstick mounted on the back of my car. The QRP (low power, 5 watts) radio and very modest antenna have proven quite effective, especially on 20 meters.
During the ARRL NPOTA event, Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 11,000 activations from 449 different different units of the NPS (with only 40 not yet activated), with over 600,000 individual two-way contacts.
I made the quick jaunt to William O’Brien on Friday in order to work Patrick, N9OQT, who was set up at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana. Patrick was there doing an Amateur Radio demonstration for a conference of state park superintendents from around the country, and he put out a call for activators to work him from different state parks around the country. My five watts can be extremely effective using CW (Morse Code), but I thought it would be a challenging contact using voice. However, since one of the purposes of the event was to demonstrate Amateur Radio to the gathered park officials, Patrick wanted to use voice only. I started out by setting up in the parking lot of the park’s visitor center. Even though this location is quite a distance from the river, it’s at a much higher elevation, and I thought it would make the difficult contact easier.
I needn’t have worried, since he copied my 5 watt signal quite well. I immediately drove down to the river, and he copied me quite well from there as well. He made a total of 124 contacts, including a total of eight state parks around the country.
Patrick’s operating location was an interesting juxtaposition of history and modern technology. He was set up in the recreation of Thomas Lincoln’s (Abe’s father) 1820’s carpentry shop. In addition, he reported local interference from roosters crowing in the background. His radio and logging computer are shown on the old workbench, with the power source being the battery shown on the floor.
After working Patrick, I went to CW and worked about 30 more contacts over the course of the next hour.
On Saturday, my son and I made another trip to the St. Croix River, and I decided to do another activation. We spent most of the day exploring the glacial potholes at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, Minnesota. The parking lot near the potholes is more than a hundred feet from the river, and the other unit of the park has somewhat difficult access due to road construction. So we decided to stop at William O’Brien on the way home, where I set up in the same spot as the previous day near the boat landing. This time, I didn’t get “spotted” on the DX cluster, so I spent about an hour answering other calls in order to make my required 10 contacts. The most interesting contact was with Jim, K7MK, who was doing a SOTA activation in Idaho.
Summits On The Air (SOTA) is another Amateur Radio activity in which hams set up temporary stations on various mountain summits. These can range from very modest summits that can be reached by car, to ones requiring serious mountaineering skills. Jim’s location appears to be one that was somewhere between these two extremes, as he was atop the 2311 meter Shafer Butte in Idaho. He reports that his activation involved a 6 mile hike, including a 1400 foot vertical ascent.
William O’Brien is a 1520 acre park founded in 1947, and located on the St. Croix River less than an hour from Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s location close to the metro area makes it an extremely popular park, but its being on the St. Croix can make it very much of a wilderness experience.
Minnesota’s Interstate State Park is located slightly further away from the Twin Cities, in Taylors Falls, Minnesota. It was founded in 1895. The main visitor center is located immediately adjacent to the downtown area of Taylors Falls, and the campground and other facilities are located about a mile down the river. It’s also a very popular park with Twin Cities residents to explore the glacial potholes, and is also a popular venue for rock climbing. It is located across the river from the Wisconsin state park bearing the same name, from which I’ve done a previous NPOTA activation.
During the ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event, Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 9000 activations from 444 different different units of the NPS (with only 44 not yet activated), with over a half million individual contacts.
One interesting aspect of this event is learning about the different parks, some of which I did not even know existed. For example, in an earlier post, I wrote about the fascinating history of Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii, a remote settlement originally set aside for persons suffering from leprosy.
This week, I learned, by talking to someone there, of another important site in American history, Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in Newport, Rhode Island. In addition to being the oldest synagogue in the United States, the site is important as a symbol of religious liberty for all Americans. The synagogue still houses an active congregation, Congregation Jeshuat Israel, as it has since 1763. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1946, and is an affiliated area of the National Park Service.
The congregation itself was founded in 1658. The ancestors of the founders had fled Europe for the Caribbean in search of religious freedom, and the founders of the synagogue ultimately fled to Rhode Island for even greater liberty. It was well established by 1790, when President George Washington wrote his letter to the “Hebrew congregation at Newport,” in which he vowed that the new nation would give “to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.”
The congregation does an annual reading of President Washington’s letter, the next scheduled for August 21, 2016.
This week, the park was put on the air by students from Rogers High School Ham Radio Club, W1VRC. Most national parks can be easily “activated” by individual hams simply pulling in and operating from a parking lot or picnic table. But many culturally sensitive sites, such as this synagogue, require more advance planning, and W1VRC worked with the site to do an activation that was both sensitive to the site, and also well planned from a radio point of view. With their advance planning, they were able to put up a 132 foot long Windom antenna, that put out an effective signal but was unobtrusive.
In sanctioning the activation, the Synagogue found especially compelling the youth involvement as the students made contacts. The young operators all did an excellent job, and there were many compliments as to their professionalism as they made 185 contacts, including one with me. This operation was actually a trial run for a larger activation, which will take place on August 7, 2016. If you’re a ham, I encourage you to try to work them. The best place for up-to-date information on frequencies is the NPOTA Facebook group. More information about W1VRC’s activation is also available at the school’s website.
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Seventy-five years ago, this day’s issue of the Milwaukee Sentinel, June 9, 1941, carried this report of ARRL Field Day, which had just concluded.
The Milwaukee hams had operated for 26 hours from a location at 43rd Street and West Edgerton Avenue in Milwaukee, a site which “presented a strange mixture of homemade and expensive commercial equipment. Above the tent strewn field a 60 foot all-wave telescopic antenna reached up for messages from the sky.”
The article reported that 291 contacts were made with all nine call areas. The furthest contact was with Puerto Rico. The paper noted that this was a test of emergency communications, and demonstrated how Milwaukee would reach the outside world should catastrophe wipe out power and telephone lines.
This was to be the last pre-war Field Day, with Amateur Radio operation silenced after Pearl Harbor. In 1940, the FCC had severely restricted portable operation, restricting it to weekends, only with self-powered apparatus intended for emergency use. 48 hour advance notice was also required. At the ARRL’s request, the FCC relaxed these requirements in a March 11, 1941 order:
It Is Ordered, That during the period of the American Radio Relay League Field Day test from 4:00 P.M. E.S.T., June 7, 1941, to 6:00 P.M. E.S.T., June 8, 1941, the prohibition contained in Commission Order No. 73 shall not apply to communications transmitted by licensed portable and portable-mobile stations participating in such tests.
The announcement of this order in the May 1941 issue cautioned that the relaxation applied only to stations participating in Field Day.
Results were published in the January 1941 issue of QST, and noted that at least 2180 individuals had participated from 163 club stations and 119 non-club stations. The Milwaukee group’s showing was overshadowed by the Tri-County Radio Association of Plainfield, NJ, W2GW/2, with 1112 contacts. That club’s contacts were evenly split between CW and phone. They had 163 worked on 160 meters, 447 on 80 meters, 245 on 40 meters, 32 on 10 meters, 20 on 5 meters, and 61 on 2-1/2 meters.
Like most Amateur Radio traditions, Field Day resumed after the war. This year’s running will take place on June 25-26. The event has continued to grow over the years. In the 2015 running, the high scorer, Potomic Valley Radio Club and Columbia Amateur Radio Association, W3AO, logged a total of 9700 contacts from 18 transmitters.
June 4, 2016 was American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day®. Since many trails are units of the National Park Service, they are taking part in National Parks On The Air (NPOTA), an event in which amateur radio operators set up portable stations at National Park units and make contact with other amateurs at home. The event has been very popular, and there have been hundreds of thousands of contacts made from the parks. The North Country National Scenic Trail qualifies as a “National Park,” allowing me to operate from one of the Minnesota state parks crossed by the trail. The North Country Trail extends from eastern New York to North Dakota. As the trail passes through Minnesota, it becomes the Superior Hiking Trail, which runs from Jay Cooke State Park along the north shore of Lake Superior to Grand Portage.
On National Trails Day, a group of hams put together an event called Light Up The Trail in which stations were set up at various locations in all of the states along the North Country Trail. As I did a couple of weeks ago, I operated from Jay Cooke State Park in Minnesota, about 25 miles south of Duluth.
The weather wasn’t quite as cooperative as it had been with my previous activation, since there was a light rain when my son and I arrived at the park. Undaunted, we moved a picnic table close to two trees what would serve as a support for a tarp. I used my trusty golf ball retriever as a tent pole on one corner, and secured the other corner to the table itself. A few taut line hitches had the protective shelter up in a few minutes, and I was ready to get on the air. My original plan was to set up dipoles for 40 and 20 meters, but with the rain coming down, I decided to stick to 20 meters only, since the total antenna length was only 32 feet. I used an inverted vee with the center supported by the golf ball retriever, and the ends tied to a tree and another picnic table. The radio consisted of my Yaesu FT-817, powered by a 12 volt sealed lead acid fish finder battery,
The activation was shorter than I had planned, but I managed 16 contacts in less than an hour of operating. My very first contact was with N1NDN who came back to my voice CQ from the eastern end of the trail at Crown Point State Park on Lake Champlain, New York. He had a very good signal, and didn’t seem to have any trouble copying my 5 watt signal. I also made contacts with two other parks, W3OK at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and W5NO at Gulf Islands National Seashore.
My last contact was with AA0AW, who was operating from the North Country Trail in Duluth. After packing up, we made a short stop at their location for an “eyeball QSO.” A group of Duluth hams had a large multi-operator operation, and had worked about 150 contacts by the time we stopped by.
The site from which I was operating, Jay Cooke State Park, lies next to a rapids of the St. Louis River. Because the rapids is impassible by canoe, it was the location of a portage used by both Native Americans and European fur traders, and remained in use until the 1870’s when a railroad was built in the area. The portage was an important link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. From the portage, travelers could navigate the river to Savannah Portage, a six-mile link to the Mississippi watershed. Jay Cooke park was formed in 1915 and remained largely undeveloped until the 1930’s when the Civilian Conservation Corps built a number of structures. I was right next to two of these. The most iconic structure in the park is the Swinging Bridge, a pedestrian bridge crossing the river. A rickety version was in place as early as 1924 (a picture is available at this site), until 1933 when the more substantial suspension bridge was built by the CCC. That bridge endured until a massive flood in 2012, but the bridge has since been rebuilt to its 1930’s specifications.
My operating location was right behind the River Inn, a picnic shelter and small museum, also built by the CCC. I toyed with the idea of operating from inside the building, which had a roaring fire going in its fireplace. But unfortunately, there was no convenient way to get my antenna cable outside, so I decided to go with my expedient blue tarp.
The 2012 flood which destroyed the bridge continues to have an impact. Minnesota Highway 210, which serves as the access to the park (and has the distinction of being a Minnesota state highway running through a small section of Wisconsin) is still closed east of the park. The $21.3 million reconstruction of the highway is scheduled to be completed in October 2016.
Here’s some raw video shot by my son, which will give you an idea of my operating location:
Forty years ago, the May-June issue of Elementary Electronics carried an interesting idea for a stealth antenna. While the article was aimed at SWL’s, the idea is equally intriguing for hams confronted with the need for a clandestine antenna.
I’ve operated with antennas hanging down from the side of a building. They’ve generally performed well, although depending on the type of construction, they often get out better in one direction. For short-term use, I generally just let a wire out through an open window and retract it when needed. The idea shown here automates the process a bit.
As you can see, the antenna itself consists of a Slinky®, mounted in a tin can just outside the window. To extend and retract it, it’s connected to an inexpensive fishing reel inside. To keep everything neat, there’s a piece of conduit running between the reel and the can. To deploy the antenna, you simply push the button on the reel. When you’re done with it, you simply reel it in. To keep prying eyes from noticing, the article recommends painting everything black.