Be Prepared

IC-705 with homebrew battery box

“Be Prepared” is the Scout Motto. It’s not the slogan. The slogan is, “Do A Good Turn Daily.” The difference is important. Both are important, but it’s hard to do a good turn if you aren’t prepared.

I’ve done the Jamboree On The Air with my kids for the last 2 years. We never really planned anything with a larger group because of my rig and the hassle factor of my shack at the old QTH. But with the addition of my new toy to my collection and my wife taking over my daughter’s Webelos Den and a very old friend of mine being the Cub Master, it seems that my time to shine has come. I’m going to toss the IC-705 and my homebrew battery box into the Jeep and get some kids on the air.

In talking with my buddy, the problems that they have had in the past included JOTA coinciding with a contest or simply being unable to get hold of anyone. There could be nothing worse than teaching a kid about radio and then not having anyone to talk to, so that risk needs to be pulled from the equasion.

Last night, I jumped on the air from my kitchen. Why the kitchen? So I’d know that I had everything I needed and didn’t have something propping me up that wouldn’t be in the field. In the even that I can’t get anyone on HF or for some reason can’t hit a repeater, I will have my Zumspot with me tethered to my iPhone. What does that do? It opens up the world of D-STAR.

We had a lot of fun with JOTA and D-STAR last year. My daughter talked to Scouts in New Mexico, Columbia, and Costa Rica. We’ve talked to Scouts all over the states and in Canada as well. The best part is that REF033A is dedicated to JOTA. So you can make a contact and slide over to another reflector to talk. It’s clear signal and you’re almost guaranteed a contact.

The test from the kitchen to my dad worked well. We’ll have him out at the PCARS club site on the day of the Jamboree to man the HF station (maybe we’ll get him on 40m!) or the repeater. And if that fails, off to D-STAR we go.

And we will be cautious. Masks for all Scouts per the guidelines. Gloves to operate the mic and a good alcohol swabbing between users just to be extra sure. Being outdoors is the key! Gotta keep that air flowing. Hopefully, we’ll have some fun, learn a few things, and make some new friends on the air.

IC-705 – Part 1: D-Star

It’s been over a year since my last post. There are reasons for that, not limited to a move to another state and a global pandemic. It certainly isn’t because I’m not active in the radio hobby! In fact, moving has made me more available to the club that I belong to and their activities on the air. And being locked down has made for more time experimenting with the radio. But that hasn’t left a lot of time for blogging about radio.

Until now!

At this point, I’m pretty sure everyone in the ham radio community heard something or other about the release of ICOM’s QRP rig the IC-705. It’s full of features and has an amazing footprint for all that it does. I remember reading the data sheet and thinking, “This is the rig I want for getting out in the field.” My 7100 is great, but I have to carry a battery box that weighs quite a bit or stick close to my Jeep. The sheer weight of the rig plus the battery just doesn’t make for a nice hike. But the 705 looked like it was going to be what I wanted it to be.

I pre-ordered one way back through DX Engineering. And then, well, the world ended. There were delays. Then more delays. Finally, we heard that November would be the earliest possible ship date. So imagine my surprise when there was a box from DXE on my porch on 02-Oct! I did the Happy Nerd Dance and opened it up so I could start charging it.

I’m familiar enough with ICOM’s approach to radio operating systems that I could get myself up and on the local repeater in no time, even with my cruddy mag-mount antenna that I keep around for emergencies. Programming it is about as easy as once could expect. That said, radio manufacturers could take a few lessons from modern UI/UX designers when they name things and decide what will go where. I’ll pick those nits later.

I have a Zumspot that I use for D-STAR and DMR. I wanted to get my 705 to hit it so that I can do a demo for Jamboree On The Air in a couple of weeks. I like to keep D-STAR up and ready as HF is unpredictable, sometimes no one is on a repeater, and no kid wants to hear about radio for 15 minutes and then not talk to anyone. D-STAR solves that nicely as there are Scouts on a couple of reflectors and it’s relatively foolproof.

It took a bit of fiddling. The manual, which covers details nicely, is still not great at walking someone from point A to point B in a straight line with some typical configurations. The fact that they don’t really address Hotspots directly is a gap. We all know that they are technically repeaters, but there are some fiddly bits there that make it less than clear. I would cover it all here, but I have a feeling it’s very specific to how the individual Hotspot is set up. More on that as I gain more experience.

I spent about an hour getting it working on D-STAR. That hour was spread over 2 days. That’s more a sign of where my life is than a ding on the rig. If I’d had more time to sit and fiddle with it, it probably would have gone more smoothly.

So far, so good. Next up will be FT8 and field tests. It’s going to be an exciting few weekends as I have some time in the field coming to me.