September 18, 2016
A group of ham radio operators are up on the overlook today attempting to “work” some of their colleagues over in Wisconsin. It’s part of a microwave contest. Some plan to stick around all day and some are heading down to Chicago later, sending signals down the coast as they go. Their homemade gear is supercool looking! A bit of fun trivia: Elberta’s call location is in EN64VP. One of the operators I spoke to, Gary, is a veteran of the telecommunications industry from back when the government was trying to break up Ma Bell. He showed the Alert some of his equipment and explained how a bit of rain, not overhead but in the signal’s path, could push his call distance much farther.
A lot has changed since amateur radio first made it possible for individuals with a bit of tech knowledge and the patience to let someone else finish a sentence—ham is “simplex” while a phone call, say, is “duplex”—communicate essentially for free with other people all over the world. But hams will probably still be around, and needed, long after other forms of telephony crap out. —Emily Votruba
Alert fan and licensed ham operator William Laut posted this on Facebook today:
“While it’s fairly routine to communicate across Lake Michigan on what is called the 2-meter band (so named because of the length of one radio wave—144 to 148MHz, a little above the FM broadcast band) this time of year, microwave is much higher in frequency and so can be more challenging. In fact, I was talking to a fellow ham the other night about how they would chase for distance (or DX) stations on VHF/UHF and above, even to working all 50 states and seven continents—on VHF, which normally is impossible! Indeed, about this time of year, there are hams on the Pacific coast who will set up parabolic antennas and attempt to communicate with fellow hams in Hawaii, because the radio waves propagate more easily over water than they do over land.
“The phenomenon which makes this VHF communication possible is called tropospheric ducting, and occurs when a pocket of warm air is enveloped top and bottom by cooler air. This creates a duct, similar in concept to forced-air heating, through which radio waves can travel great distances. Indeed, this past summer we’ve been having great ‘band openings’ on 2-meters. With my handheld 5-watt transceiver and a ‘slim jim’ antenna inside my bedroom in Muskegon, I’ve reached all the way down to Kalamazoo and up to Ludington. In fact, one of the APRS ‘digipeaters’ that the Benzie radio club operates (which is atop the Benzonia water tower) regularly is received down near me in Whitehall. And last fall, when I was up in Elberta, I was parked at the hill overlooking Lake Michigan and with my handheld 5-watt radio, I had no problem connecting to a repeater located in Hart, MI; through which I spoke with a fellow club member who was in Spring Lake at the time, a distance of some 100 miles!
“Check back with them this evening as the sun begins to set, starting around 6:00pm. I would expect the bands will be opening up for them.
“As seemingly outdated as it might appear to outsiders, ham radio will always be around—and it will always provide communications when even the Internet fails. For that reason, it’s a smart move to study for the entry-level license (the “Technician”) and spend $30 on a Baofeng handheld; not only in case it’s needed, but also to expose yourself to an entirely different world of communication that could inspire you to new things.”
Watch this footage of the hams in action, taken by an Alert staffer.