Category Archives: Amateur Radio

Ham Radio topics.

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – February 2024 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Hey gang,

This is, by all accounts, my 100th article for the Ohio Section Journal! It’s coming a month late as I didn’t count the announcement of my father’s passing in September of 2023 as an article. I’ve been thinking about doing something special for my 100th. As per usual, short on ideas. I thought back and remembered being asked a question by fellow Volunteer Examiner, Tom – W8KYZ. He asked me some time ago ‘how long does it take for you to write an article for the Ohio Section Journal?’ I didn’t have a good answer because I really hadn’t paid attention. At the time I recall saying “probably 6 hours.” In reality, it’s double that. After Tom’s question, I started taking notes and being self-aware of my writing process to put together an article. Here is my 100th article on how I write for the Ohio Section Journal.

In the beginning. Dating back to middle school (or as some call it, intermediate or junior high school), I liked to write. I had some good English teachers. Mr. Holland in 6th grade and Mrs. Mann in 7th grade. Mr. Holland had his own library of Reader’s Digests. We were encouraged to read articles, write summaries and include our own thoughts. Mrs. Mann did the school newspaper as an extracurricular. I did activities and layout. Her teaching style in class also made it fun to learn. Have to give credit to mom because she was my proofreader in elementary and middle school. I think writing is one of her traits I inherited.

Sophomore year of high school I had a very strict English teacher, Mr. Scherma. I could do common MLA (Modern Language Association) citations and punctuation structure, though college, in my sleep because of his class.

I’ve always believed if I don’t understand it, I can’t explain it to others. Another credit to Dr. Vernon for my International Business grad school class. We did a lot of writing in his class. He took that philosophy a step further. Be able to make arguments both for and against something, then provide alternative solutions proves you really understand a topic.

I’ve read a number of PC magazines over the years starting probably not much before middle school. Some of my favorite writers were Steve Bass (PC World) who was always a fun read and interjected a good level of humor and sarcasm in his articles. Another would be John C. Dvorak (PC Magazine). I can’t say he’s been right about a lot of his predictions, “… experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things” (Dvorak Uncensored). I do share a level of skepticism over tech hype – as does John. He’s given great writing advice which stays in the back of my mind. John is also a master troll (one whom posts causing maximum disruption and argument, particularly online). I wish I could pull off some of his schemes.

(Technologizer)

Before I started writing for the Ohio Section Journal, the previous Technical Coordinator, Jim – W8ERW (SK) saw my writings in club newsletters. I was doing a series on Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR dongles called “Dongle Bits” in 2014 – 2015.

Ohio Section Journal. When I was appointed to be the Technical Coordinator by our previous Section Manager, Scott – N8SY (now Tom – WB8LCD), it was stated section articles had to be something ‘ham radio related.’ Mine started out ham radio related but took liberties doing articles on things closely related to ham radio such as computers, Windows, and Linux. In the same way a club meeting might include topics or announcements on useful smartphone apps, space and plants, and other electronics, I reach into my background for other technical topics. I’ve done System Support for Windows and Linux environments, System Administration of Linux systems, programming on a Linux platform, and currently networking and security.

My thought is, well, I have to do 12 of these per year. Even that’s way too much ham radio for me. In branching out to cover Information Technology or Information Security topics, maybe an IT or InfoSec professional might come across an article and check into this ham radio thing. As it turns out, readers like the variety too.

Post Script is released the weeks when a Section Journal is not published. It consists of mostly articles from other publications and submissions received by the Section Manager. Articles are summoned from Section Cabinet members for the Section Journal on a monthly basis.

How do I find a topic? They start out as things I’m interested in or working on – things others might find interesting as well. Brainstorm sessions happen anywhere: while I’m at work browsing the internet, working on something in the shack, watching a presentation on a topic, giving a presentation and a question was asked, watching an online video, new or different technology I’m playing with and experiences (good and bad), heard a different perspective on a subject, current topics or events, etc. Some months I didn’t do that much ham radio and rather talk about a computing project I’ve been working on. I always promote anything the Technical Specialists are working on or doing.

As the month rolls along, I’ll make a note to myself ‘this would be an interesting OSJ article.’ I do have a backlog of topics but rarely do I pull one from that list. As I’m learning new things, I rarely write about them immediately because I don’t care for “initial impression” (aka unboxing) type material. I would rather provide insights from (at least) a couple months of using something to find quarks, see how bugs and updates are handled.

I do bump articles. I planned to do topic X, but Y seemed more interesting and pertinent at the time. A recent example, I was planning to do my February 2023 article on my Windows 10 shack upgrade for January. After attending a conference, which included some ham radio topics, that became the published article for January. I wrote a new article and bumped the original to February.

On occasion, I’ll do a collaboration. Ones that come to mind are the write up of the Wood County Amateur Radio Club and the BG Fab Lab (I’m a WCARC member). I coordinated a trip out to Bowling Green to coincide with their breakfast meeting and ham radio training class. I talked with club members about the partnership, took pictures, and observed the training class. Unfortunately, the partnership has since dissolved between the WCARC and the BG Fab Lab.

During National Parks on the Air, Technical Specialist Bob – K8MD wrote the article on the Perry’s Monument activation. I did an article on Winlink nets where I solicited input from net control stations for details they would like to share about their net and let them review a final draft before publication.

If someone poses a question to me, that is often the basis for an article (October 2019 on Line A). I’ll confirm with them I can publish their name and call sign as part of the article. Most people don’t mind. I do want to be respectful of those whom may think their question is silly, stupid, don’t want the attention, or just wish to remain private.

I’ll revisit topics. Two years is the minimum between publication and republication, unless there is a development or someone poses a question. It’s never the same article. It will be changed, if only slightly, in favor of better wording, include more details, or latest updates.

John C. Dvorak

One evergreen is “writing a newsletter article for your club or the Section Journal” (July 2017 & November 2019). A reason for revisiting this topic is because it encourages the sharing of advances and learning, which is one of my responsibilities as Technical Coordinator. Another exception is every June, I feature and highlight the skills of our Technical Specialists to remind readers they are an available resource for club meetings and hamfests. This is another responsibility of mine.

Learning time is hard to quantify and not included in my time estimates. My article on the WPSD Pi-Star replacement includes over a decade experience in digital modes when I started using them in 2009, using Pi-Star since 2018 when I bought a ZumSpot, and learning about WPSD in January 2023 when I saw the segment on AmateurLogic. Anything HF or digital HF has been learned since I built my shack in 2014.

Timelines. This, of course has changed over the years as different editors have taken over or has been adjusted to meet their demands. Currently, the Ohio Section Journal comes out the last weekend of the month. Articles can be submitted anytime during the month. Deadline is few days or so before publication, more if the SM is traveling.

When do I start? This depends. A collaboration or I have free time to get a draft written could be a month or more. Collaborations are worked on earlier in order to have enough time for those involved to review a final draft for changes. It’s rare for me to have a finished product turned in more than a few days ahead of the deadline. Normally, I start a few weeks ahead. Sometimes the week of. On a couple occasions, the night before it’s due.

Getting in mine in “early” is a phrase that does not exist in my vocabulary. Section Managers can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve been early. I am the worst at getting my article in early and even hours past the deadline at like 2am. I’m terrible and I know it. I apologize to them when we talk about the OSJ. I do try to make my article an easy drop-in for their template.

Writing process. I don’t consider myself a good writer. I don’t. From draft to published edition, the flow rarely changes. Wording, clarity, and phrasing are another story. I will post an example in the online version of this article. I saved all six revisions of the second paragraph in my September 2022 article. This article was on running multiple copies of Fldigi and Flmsg at the same time. It shows progression from initial draft to published version and changes made during each revision.

>>> 9/22 article revisions can be viewed here. <<<

LibreOffice Writer (libreoffice.org)

My writing process starts out as a stream of consciousness style of writing. Get in front of the keyboard for about 4 – 8 hours and just type. Not often in one sitting, broken up over some days. Less so when a deadline is looming. While brainstorming, I often have an organizational structure thought out ahead of time. A large portion of wiring time is due to reading things like Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRMs), looking up details, supporting information, and validating my recollection. My style, especially early on, follows the same form as the Five-Paragraph Essay format taught in grade school.

Once my thoughts are down, I’ll start to revise the article. Depending how I feel for editing, 2 – 3 revisions are done on the computer. The rest are on paper. I’ll print the article, do a read-through marking changes, input those changes into the computer, print the article again, rinse and repeat 4 – 6 more times. 2 – 3 read-troughs are in my head, another 2 – 3 verbally.

I’m not well versed in proper sentence structure. I remember the big things like avoiding run-on sentences, sentence fragments, don’t begin sentences with conjunctions or “so,” or ending sentences with prepositions. The conjunction one goes out the window if it makes a point. Whatever seems natural is published. Editing process is about 4 – 6 hours.

OMG! Who is printing things in the current year? Me. If you go back and read through some of my early OSJ articles, they are really rough. I was doing all writing, revisions, and editing at the computer. I got complaints about editing, wording, and spelling. I am my own worst critic. The comments were not unfounded because those articles were hard to re-read and sucked. I needed to make a change. Went back to what worked for me in school. Printing and proofreading – over and over and over and over – again. Now when I re-read my articles later, I think “there’s no way I wrote this, it’s too good!”

I start writing in LibreOffice Writer, except when I start writing in the shack which has Microsoft Word. I start in LibreOffice because my primary desktop and laptop run Fedora. All writing, links, and editing are done using Writer. No graphics are included at this point. When editing is done, I use a Windows virtual machine with a local copy of Microsoft Word. Word Doc is the format requested by the Section Manager in Times New Roman, 12-point font.

Text is pasted into Word using “keep text only” or unformatted text. This removes any unnecessary formatting from Writer. I never directly convert Writer to Word using the Save As option. I’ve used Writer and predecessors, there have always been conversion (formatting) problems going directly to Word. The Document Foundation states a lot has been accomplished solving formatting issues. I still see conversion problems around image sizing, positioning, and cropping.

Word’s spelling and grammar checker is far superior and I use it for final touchups. That is to say, Writer has a spell checker that’s not very good and completely lacks grammar checking. I’ve noticed quarks (bugs) in Writer’s spell checker that hinder my editing process. For example, a misspelled word will not be underlined with the standard wavy red line to visually indicate a word not recognized. Copy and paste that exact same sentence into a blank Writer document and the wavy red line appears for the misspelled word. Haven’t figured out why that happens and I don’t ever use the ‘ignore/ignore all’ option.

Though I may gather images during brainstorming, I don’t go looking for graphics or images until everything is formatted in Word. During the writing and editing process, I only work with text and links. Inserting images at the end doesn’t waste space in the printouts and I avoid any conversion issues going from Writer to Word. When media from other sites is used, I’ll caption it with the domain or username as it is not my work. Most often, Size and Position Text ? Alignment is Square. Then group the caption and image together.

Paint.net interface (fixthephoto.com)

Taking my own pictures, I’m a huge fan of Cannon imaging products since I started using them at our high school TV station. I use a Cannon Rebel SL2 primarily. When I don’t want to use the nice camera, an old Canon PowerShot SX210 or my Google Android Pixel phone does the job at places like Hamvention. Don’t think I’ve included too many scanned items, but an Epson Perfection V100 Photo is used. Editing, cropping, resizing, bluing parts of images and pictures, I use a free program called Paint.Net and, on occasion the Linux equivalent, Pinta.

The inclusion of hyperlinks in articles has been amazing for me. Instead of having to cite something or take additional time explaining, I link the reader to a place they can read or research something I’ve mentioned. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour to convert, do final spell/grammar checking, insert and caption images, and verify links work correctly.

In total, it takes me an average of 12 – 16 hours to do an OSJ article. The quickest one in recent history was six hours on Spam Campaigns, draft to final version. Normally, this process is spread out a few hours per day over at least three days. I E-mail the article and images to the Section Manager. Then it magically appears is the published version of the Ohio Section Journal. I don’t know much about the processes once I send my submission.

Web Edition. After the OSJ is published and emails go out to members and subscribers, I publish my article to my site. From Word, I do a Save As ? Plain Text. The key to this conversion: in the File Conversion box, checking “Allow character substitution.” This removes “smart quotes,” apostrophes, multiple periods, and dashes Word likes to insert – substituting them with web friendly characters for online publishing.

I don’t use the HTML Save As option because my method keeps the online version clean from the needless formatting and useless tags inserted by Office products. December’s article was 6 KB of plain text. After formatting the article and creating links for my website, 8 KB. Comparing exporting to HTML in Word weighs in at 54 KB – of needless crap and highly inefficient rendering, if you ask me.

My site is a WordPress content management system (CMS). I have boilerplate text at the beginning of each post (article) describing how to subscribe and links to the full edition. Then paste the exported text, recreating text formatting and links in the CMS. I upload and caption the same images. Always after the OSJ is released is when I hit the “Publish” button to make the version live on my site too.

After publication. Generally, I receive no feedback on a per article basis. That is fine because people still call me out when I do make mistakes. I receive comments when people see me in person at hamfests, presentations, and occasionally over the air. Readers generally enjoy the stuff I write and topics covered.

Ironically, the most feedback I receive are from the non-ham topics. Some of you complained about my series on preserving legacy media (August, September, and October 2021). I received more messages from readers who wanted to share their tips, experiences, and services used to rescue data from legacy media. It was under ten messages but more than any other article or series I published.

I’m likely blacklisted with a vendor or two. They’ve messaged me displeased about one thing or another. When asked what they had an issue with, they don’t respond. Manufactures have never given me anything anyway because I do, and have, refuse units for review. If a product is worth purchasing or is something a lot of hams are using and might have technical questions, I purchase the product on my own. Representatives often come across as jags but I remain professional. Seriously though, make better products.

I receive a lot of “I don’t understand it, but it’s interesting” feedback, even from my own dad. I attempt to grab attention in some way. It’s a balancing act though. Many readers are not all very technical, others want me to do deep dives including all kinds of technical specifications. I shoot for a middle ground of knowledge an average user might need. At least a basic understanding of computers helps to understand my articles. If someone walks away with a piece of knowledge they keep in the back of their mind for the future, my job here is done.

When I did longer articles, I make an effort to shorten them. This is not one of those articles. A friend suggested splitting longer ones across multiple months. Depends how I feel. I try to keep them shorter (2-3 pages, before graphics). Some want even longer articles. Thank you and I’m flattered, but this takes up a considerable amount of time as-is.

Not that all feedback isn’t humbling, a couple stick out. My brother shared a story where someone at his company messaged him asking if he knew me (same last name). Obviously, he did. They told him they enjoyed reading my Section Journal articles. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of this person. Ralph – K8HSQ messaged the Section Manager and myself saying “I enjoy your articles in the OSJ newsletter very much. Whenever I see your article being announced in the email, I read it immediately. If it’s not listed, the newsletter gets put on the “read later” pile.” Roy – K8RWH always says he is “your #1 fan in Ohio.”

I don’t even know how to react to that other than to say – thank you! I always ended my articles the same: thanks for reading. I’m always honored you take time out of your busy schedule to read anything I have to say. This also comes from another teacher I had and talked about recently, Mr. Hoty. ‘No matter what the viewers say or complain about – your audio stinks, the picture sucks, wrong about this – just let them vent and calmly say “thank you for watching” because at least their watching.’ With that…

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – December 2023 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Hey gang,

Finally, a step in the right direction allowing ham radio to modernize – being able to use and develop new data communication methods and have greater flexibility encouraging experimentation. Last month, an announcement from the ARRL recapped a ruling made by the FCC to amend the Amateur Radio Service rules. Commissioners voted unanimously to remove the symbol rate (baud rate) restriction replacing it with a 2.8 kHz bandwidth limit on the HF bands.

Émile Baudot was an engineer and inventor of the first means of digital communication called the Baudot code in 1870. Instead of using dots and dashes as used in Morse Code, he invented a system of bits to represent each character when transmitting messages over a telegraph line. The “baud” unit was named after him. Baud is the number of symbols transmitted per second across a medium. Baudot’s system allowed for multiple transmissions over a single line.

In modern electronics and computing, baud is often associated with serial communication. Most of us remember or have used serial ports. Stating a serial port operates at “9600 baud” means that serial port can transfer up to 9600 bits per second.

Telephone modems, such as those used to access BBS’ and early Internet, had baud rates that matched bit rates. As technology developed and faster communications were demanded, modems used multiple signaling events. The V.32 ITU-T standard allowed for data transfers at 9.6 kbit/s or 4.8 kbit/s at 2,400 baud. This means there were 4 or 2 signaling events respectively occurring at 2,400 baud to achieve the transfer rate.

In their decision, the FCC stated “baud rate limits were adopted in 1980, when the Commission amended the rules to specify ASCII as a permissible digital code. The Commission adopted the limits so that ASCII signals would occupy no more spectrum than traditional radioteleprinter signals associated with the use of Baudot code (FCC Amends Amateur Radio Rules for Greater Flexibility).”

Hams are (for the time being) limited to 300 bauds on the 2200m-12m bands. 1200 bauds on 10m. 19.6 kilobauds on VHF (6 & 2m) not exceeding 20 kHz. 56 kilobauds not exceeding 100 kHz on 220 and 440. A symbol rate is not specified for 33cm and above (97.305).

The ARRL’s petition asked the commission to delete all references to a symbol rate and establish a bandwidth limit of 2.8 kHz for data emissions below 29.700 MHz (2200 and 630-meter excluded). FCC commented that amateur radio can still play a vital role in emergency communications, but is hindered by current baud rate limitations. This ruling removes the old standard of ‘how much data can be sent per second’ replacing it with ‘how much data can be packed into 2.8 kHz of RF spectrum’ on the HF bands.

2.8 kHz occupies the same bandwidth as common side-band (voice) signals seen on HF bands. Even though sections permit wider transmissions (AM, FM in portions of 10m), the limit is imposed uniformly across all HF bands. 2.8 kHz was decided upon because placing the limit below 2.8 would preclude some modes that are already legal.

Radios that do not have a specific “digital” mode setting use SSB when transmitting digital signals from a computer or other device. Radios capable of SSB can be used when newer data modes are made available if offered in a traditional sound card configuration and the radio doesn’t have a hard roll off at 2.7 kHz that cannot be adjusted. Newer ICOM radios (like the 7300) and Software Defined Radios can transmit full bandwidth. Offerings may decide to use standalone hardware or a modem with the assistance of a computing device to transmit and receive signals.

Pactor 4 Radio Modem (landfallnavigation.com)

The ruling did not change anything else. Only symbol rates below 29.7 MHz are affected. 6m and up are unaffected and remain at the published symbol rates in Part 97. The commission proposes removing baud rate restrictions in favor of bandwidth limits on MF, VHF, and UHF too. Band plans and sub-bands remain the same. Digital portions remain digital portions, voice remains voice. Band plans are not something the FCC rules on either. Band plans are typically established by gentleman’s agreement among hams. 2.8 kHz is a maximum. A single PSK or FT8 signal is not going to start utilizing all 2.8 kHz – though some operators act like it. Stations must still set audio levels correctly to reduce digital splatter from their station.

The ARRL previously stated they are in favor of bandwidth limits on other bands but wanted to review limits that might be imposed. I believe it gets tricky with modes of varying bandwidths. For example, many would probably say most popular on the 2m band is FM, including repeaters. There are 2m SSB sub-bands too. 6m is similar with the low-end being DX windows and the upper end being largely FM and repeaters. Could there be multiple limitations implemented per band? DX windows get a 2.8 kHz limit while FM portions are limited to 15 or 20 kHz? Maybe. One problem with this theory, existing permitted legal bandwidths (e.g.: 100 kHz) would be excluded. These and other considerations are likely being reviewed by the ARRL.

An immediate effect of the bandwidth ruling permits later PACTOR modes. In nearly every hurricane or disaster where hams are involved with emergency communications, the FCC would grant a waiver allowing greater than 300 baud transmissions. This temporarily allowed PACTOR III & IV transmissions, which are faster and more reliable than other modes. No more symbol rate waivers will be needed. I’m noticing more Winlink RMS stations in the U.S. listing 2750 Hz VARA HF. There was some question whether 2750 is legal under existing rules in the U.S. and these new listings could be in anticipation of the upcoming changeover.

PACTOR-III has a “data rate of up to 3600 bits per second and a symbol rate of 100 bauds” while PACTOR-IV is “capable of a data rate of 5800 bits per second … [at] a symbol rate of 1800 bauds (Amateur Baud Rate NPRM).” PACTOR-III would be permitted. PACTOR-IV, which does not occupy anymore bandwidth than PACTOR-III, is prohibited and not spectrally efficient.

The new rules go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The document was published on December 7, 2023 with amended Part 97 rules. The new Part 97 HF bandwidth rules go into effect January 8, 2024!

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – November 2023 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Hey gang,

Pi-Star was great. It solved big problems for hams wanting to use VHF and UHF digital modes around 2016-2017. Personal hotspots were becoming popular. Consisting of a digital interface (modem) board capable of transmitting and receiving digital modes such as DMR, D-STAR, and System Fusion. These transceiver options are low power at about 10mW. The modem interfaced with software to manage network connections. Many devices were created for the popular Raspberry Pi or Arduino single-board computers using the GPIO headers. Others were USB-based devices that could be used with a desktop computer running any operating system or plugged into a Raspberry Pi.

The hardware was pretty solid. Software, not so much. Nearly each group attempted to make their own software distribution. In general, this failed as users couldn’t get the software to work consistently and settings didn’t work as expected – even across users with similar setups. Many didn’t have monitors connected. VNC, a remote desktop sharing application, was used. VNC generally works well desktop-to-desktop, but not desktop-to-mobile. These problems weren’t helping promote digital modes and personal hotspots.

Then along came Pi-Star. Created and maintained by Andy – MW0MWZ, it solved nearly all those problems. On the hardware site, Pi-Star supported every digital modem in a single platform. MMDVM is the software capable of “speaking” different digital mode protocols and managing network connections. It came with a web front-end that did everything needed to configure and manage devices, update network settings, update device firmware, and have a nice usable dashboard. Ultimately, the Pi-Star platform superseded all previous attempts at a viable interface for digital ham radio hotspots.

On the Pi-Star site, version 4.1.5 dated October 2021 is the latest image available for Raspberry Pi. However, 4.1.6 is available through the update sequence pistar-update then pistar-upgrade at the command line, both prefixed with sudo. Pi-Star 4.1.5/6 release is based on Raspbian 10 (buster) which has reached end-of-life. Raspbian, the standard Raspberry Pi operating system, follows the Debian release schedule. Debian 10 is out of standard security updates and into LTS (long term support). Raspbian does not offer LTS.

If you’ve read my column long enough, you know the majority of vulnerability issues can be avoided by keeping systems updated and patched. I’m also reminded of the time when I went searching and found there are Pi-Star’s accessible directly from the Internet, with the default password. What could possibly go wrong?

By all accounts, and as of this writing, Andy is no longer maintaining Pi-Star. Looking at his post count in the forums: zero in 2023 and ten in 2022. There are very few updates to GitHub repositories in the last two years, which are used to update Pi-Star devices. I’ve seen references to lack of updates due to lack of interest. Pi-Star is also lacking the latest additions to MMDVM including M17 and FM for boards that support those modes (usually through firmware updates).

The next iteration of Pi-Star (or fork) comes to us via W0CHP, called “W0CHP-PiStar-Dash (WPSD).” I learned about WPSD when AmateurLogic ran a segment in January on this new offering. I started using it shortly after. Though it was early on in the project, WPSD was labeled “not for the faint of heart” by the author.

It was really rough around the edges. I had to debug scripts in order for updates to run successfully. The dashboard would show the modem in “TX D-STAR” when only P25 was enabled. There were issues with the configuration file manual editor too.

Regardless, development is very active. WPSD has become much more stable and now considered the Pi-Star replacement. Alot has changed in the time I’ve been using WPSD and presume things will continue to evolve.

One such change, there was an option for installing WPSD on top of an existing Pi-Star installation. That option is no longer available or supported. The distribution must be flashed directly to an SD card (flash memory), exactly like Pi-Star.

I always recommend using a new card or different SD card from the current, existing installation until everything is working as the user expects. Having the old (original) card available allows switching back easily in case of problems or need to reference something from the previous installation.

Pi-Star with Nextion display (ailunce.com)

A recent blog post by the author called out people who claim WPSD is an “overlay.” At one point, it could have been installed on top of an existing Pi-Star installation. WPSD is not an overlay. It is its own software distribution.

WPSD works with most Raspberry Pi offerings (Zero, Zero 2, 2, 3, 4, …) including the Orange Pi and Nano Pi Neo variants. The Raspberry Pi Zero W 1.1 is not really recommended for use but it will work. The Zero W 2 is recommended instead. A Zero W 1.1 needs extra configuration steps after flashing the SD card. These include: creating a wpa_supplicant.conf and placing it in the /boot partition. Waiting at least 30 minutes for the image to boot and configure itself before accessing the dashboard. Steps are detailed in the link above.

While using WPSD with my Pi Zero W 1.1 it is quite a bit quicker, taking about a minute to save changes on the configuration page of the dashboard. Compared to the Pi-Star which took two to three minutes to save changes. Pi Zero W 2s are still very hard to find. If you can find one, a male header strip still needs to be soldered to the GPIO. Pre-soldered ones are nonexistent.

Not only is WPSD on a supported operating system (bullseye, Debian 11) but there are a TON of enhancements and updates over Pi-Star. Though the visual layout has changed, it’s intuitive enough for any existing Pi-Star user. Changes I noted right away were the addition of M17 support (though I don’t have any capable devices) and Nextion support built-in. Nextions are displays and/or touchscreens that can be attached to the modem or added through a TTL serial converter, such as those based on the CP2102 chipset. Adding Nextion support to the original Pi-Star was a terrible experience using hacky scripts that had to be run a couple times before the drivers and software could be usable.

WPSD Live Caller mode

Non-exhaustive list of enhancements: full APRSGateway support. DGId support. DMR Roaming Beacon Support for repeaters. Caller details include name and location. Talkgroup names are populated. On the fly changes of talkgroups/rooms/reflectors/networks including ability to pause networks for attending nets or quieting a busy mode. Live Caller mode which is a browser based (virtual) version of a Nextion display. Ability to disable cron (scheduled) updates. Updated dashboard including wider, bigger, updated fonts, user configurable options including CSS styling and fonts. Full dashboard display or Simple View with only RF and gateway activity. Configurable number of last heard stations. Configuration/Profile Manager, similar to OpenSpot, where the user can save multiple versions of a setup and restore them based on use.

A Profile Manager feature was added to WPSD, which did not exist in Pi-Star but exists in the OpenSpot devices. This allows the user to save device settings into a profile to be recalled later. These could be travelling profiles, or ones specific to a mode, network, or configuration for a net. Initial implementation of this feature did not backup saved profiles when using the Backup/Restore feature. Only the current active profile would be backed up or restored. Now, within the last two months, Backup/Restore saves ALL device profiles in the backup archive.

That is an example of the constantly evolving nature of this new WPSD distribution. Updates happen quite frequently. WPSD was updated nearly daily for a long time. Updates still happen quite frequently but at the pace of about once a week, maybe more.

Speaking of backups, it’s not recommended to use migrated configuration files or backups from Pi-Star, due to differences. If Pi-Star files are used with WPSD and there are issues, the user will be required to begin configuration from scratch.

One change I do not particularly care for is the requirement to use DMRGateway. In Pi-Star, I used Direct Mode which is the selection of a single DMR Master. For example: select BM_3104_United_States for Brandmeister and TGIF_Network for TGIF as the DMR Master. I liked this for two reasons: this functionality is similar to how a repeater would operate and it simplifies codeplug programming for talkgroups with the same TG ID across different networks. Ohio Statewide is 3139 on multiple networks meaning I only had to setup Ohio Statewide once. Though it seemed most users did use DMRGateway in Pi-Star.

DMRGateway supports simultaneous connections to six networks. With all those network connections there must be a way to differentiate which network is to receive a transmission. That way is through “prefixes,” a single number prepended to the talkgroup number. DMRGateway doesn’t appear to use a prefix for Brandmeister, 3139 would remain 3139. TGIF talkgroups are prefixed with a 5. 3139 would become 53139. HBLink prefix is 8. My HBLink would be 831983 instead of 31983.

WPSD Dashboard

If you’ve programmed a codeplug for a DMR radio, it’s not as easy as just making a new contact with the prefix. Adding the contact to an RX group, creating new channels, and reorganizing or creating new zones are all needed. Maybe I’ll purge the ‘nice to haves’ in my codeplug as I typically only use a handful of talkgroups or just make a new simplified codeplug for use with WPSD.

Changes have been made to the scripts and tools. Commands rpi-rw and rpi-ro have been removed. These were used to switch between a read/write file system and a read-only file system. There has been debate whether a read only file system corrupts any less or shortens the lifespan of the SD card when left in read/write mode. Pi-Star was constantly changing from read only to read/write during settings changes, updates, and hostfile update cycles. Mine seemed as though it could never successfully change from read/write back to read only after an update. Eliminating those scripts just ‘fixed’ those resource busy messages.

Pi-Star scripts that began with pistar- have all been removed and replaced with a smaller set of wpsd- scripts. It was great because all WPSD updates were taken care of by going to Admin -> Update. Though, a recent change has removed operating system updates from that feature. Admin Update only updates WPSD currently (probably due to those lengthy Raspbian kernel updates). To update the operating system, SSH to WPSD or go Admin -> Advanced -> Tools -> SSH Access. After logging in (same credentials used to login to the Admin or Configuration dashboards), at the command line, enter (capitalization is important):

sudo UP_OS=1 wpsd-update

As with Pi-Star, if an update fails or installation becomes borked, re-flashing the SD card with the latest available image will bring the device to a known working state. Remember to save a new backup before updating! WPSD images are updated more frequently than Pi-Star. Updates released since the image was published won’t take quite as long to apply.

There is a lot to read, including some edge features that have been removed, on the WPSD page (linked above). Comparing WPSD to Pi-Star (‘this used to work on Pi-Star,’ ‘when I revert back to Pi-Star this thing works,’ etc.) is verboten when asking for support. The main page on W0CHP’s site is a blog detailing direction and state of the project as well as reasons for changes. I recommend Pi-Star users update to W0CHP-PiStar-Dash – if nothing else, for the supported operating system and OS package updates though there are many improvements and welcome features.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – October 2023 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Hey gang,

This has been really hard. In past articles, I’ve managed to put together a few words as a tribute to hams that have become Silent Keys, ones that have gone above and beyond or had an effect on my life. There is no bigger influence on my life, especially the areas of ham radio and computers, than my dad, Thomas (Tom) A. Kopcak – N8ETP. He passed at age 70 on Thursday, September 28, 2023.

Dad grew up in the West Park area of Cleveland. A stone’s throw from Hopkins International Airport. He graduated from John Marshall High School and went on to Max Hayes vocational school completing studies in Electrical Engineering. There are a few projects of his still hanging around his childhood home.

Dad met my mom Geraldine (Gerri). Tom and Gerri (get it?) were married in 1977 in Westlake, Ohio. They had four kids: Jeffrey (myself), Michael, Kimberly, and Deborah. I don’t know how my parents did it. Herding us is like herding cats. They pulled it off in strides. As kids, they were always present for our school plays, musical concerts, functions, academics, and extracurricular activities like sports. I was going to say “not for me” as in I didn’t do sports but I was in little league. Guess that counts. As adults, they were nothing but fair and generous.

There were things I didn’t want to do. Dad wanted me to join band in 5th grade. I had no desire to play an instrument but I ended up playing through 11th grade, though I can’t say I was any good. As a result of him pushing me to do band, I made some friendships that last to this day and went on trips that few others get the opportunity to do. Such as competing against bands throughout the US and marching (marching band) in: Marshall Field’s Jingle Elf Holiday Parade in Chicago, Mickey’s Christmastime Parade in the Magic Kingdom, and the halftime show of the Orange Bowl in Miami – during the winter. My parents didn’t have crowdfunding platforms either and could have used that money elsewhere. They did well by us kids.

Dad (right) at a football game with WHBS (2002)

Dad told me I should join WHBS-TV early on in high school. If you have seen my “About the Technical Coordinator” presentation, I talk about this high school public access television station competing with college stations. I didn’t immediately take his advice and joined partway through sophomore year. The reasons (excuses) I gave were: high school is a new school and experience – I didn’t want to be overwhelmed, and band already takes up a lot of my time. I completely regret not joining immediately because when someone asks ‘what did I enjoy during high school,’ it was WHBS. Parents do know what they are talking about more often than ever given credit.

Even before I joined, Dad casually knew the club’s advisor, Tony Hoty. Other siblings followed and joined WHBS too. After leaving for college, Dad was offered a part-time job doing electronics and repairing things for the club. Dad loved helping out and looked forward to Friday Night Football games. The Hoty’s became close family friends and Tony was a pallbearer for Dad.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Being in the electronics field, Dad discovered police scanners. In finding frequencies for local police and fire, he came across these ranges where it sounded like people were having casual conversations. After doing some research, discovered this service called Amateur Radio. He thought ‘this was sorta interesting’ and desired to become licensed. He felt it was one of those ‘get licensed before the family comes or it will never happen’ moments. From his QCWA application, he was first licensed in March 1983. At that time, exams were administered at FCC offices or when the FCC came to administer exams in town. He obtained a Technician class license as N8ETP. With that, he had to pass Novice written, 5-word per minute (WPM) Morse Code, Technician written, and 13 WPM code exams.

Phil (W8PSK), myself (K8JTK), Tom (N8ETP), and Gerri (N8GTK) at a Wood County ARC breakfast meeting (2006)

As kids, Dad built toys that had buttons, lights, and switches. We had toys no one else had because Dad made them. One in particular was a box that had about 10 LED lights. Each light had its own corresponding button. When that button was pressed, the light would light up and it would also make a sound. Each button & light combination had its own pitch. Buttons on the left produced lower pitched tones. Ones to the right would be higher pitched tones. There was one special button that, when pressed, would cycle through each light and tone combination from low to high. Not only that but there was a knob that would adjust how fast it would sequence through ranging from reallllllly slow to very fast, and everywhere in-between. There is nothing else like it.

Back in the day, Dad used ham radio all the time RVing in the travel trailer. He often chatted with those in the neighborhood that were hams. John – WG8H is still one of those neighbors. Dad worked at Picker Briggs and got Carl – KB8VXE interested in police scanners and he became licensed years later. Carl was a pallbearer as well. Dad was a member of a couple clubs in the area. He attended meetings, was in club leadership, member of Skywarn, and doing what most would consider to be the “tech committee” today – upkeep and maintenance of repeaters. Dad brought me, as a kid, to many ham radio meetings. I don’t remember a lot but I do remember some of these meetings.

One presentation he gave was on a medical system where he designed hardware for Scott Care (division of Scott Fetzer). This system used short-range RF to transmit telemetry and voice from a rehabilitation area back to a monitoring station which was also built by his company. The patient begins their exercise period. Wearing a belt pack and electrodes, EKG data is transmitted back to the nurse’s monitoring station. Alongside EKG data, the patient can interact with the nurse through a headset connected to the belt pack. They also designed a home kit which had a unit that connected to an ordinary telephone line transmitting the same telemetry data and voice to a hospital remotely. I loved to visit his workplace and see the cool stuff he was working on when I younger.

Part of his job was to figure out how stuff worked to make better designs. I remember having computers around the house like the Commodore 64 and early PCs. The earliest PC I think we had was an IBM compatible 286 PC in the early 1990s. He brought home video training courses on the basics of PC computing and other programs, such as Lotus 1-2-3. By this time, I was already interested in electronics by way of audio cassettes, home videos, VHS cassette tapes, and ham radio.

Dad working on the 2m beam (2008)

Since Dad had access to dial-up BBS (bulletin board systems) at work, he would download and bring home shareware games for us to play. He was also a member of HamNet BBS, a local BBS for Ham Radio and scanner enthusiasts run by Dave Foran – WB8APD (SK). The first PC game I remember was an electronic coloring book called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – World Tour. My best guess, this was around 2nd grade – ’91-’92. I thought that was pretty cool. The mouse pointer acted as an electronic crayon and colors were selected from a color palette. Selecting a color changes the electronic crayon color. Clicking on a part of the image fills an area with the selected color.

There was a way you could print the coloring book picture with an included custom message. However, you couldn’t edit that message within the program. It gave some message indicating a text file had to be edited outside the program. I asked him what that meant. He showed me how to edit that text file in MS-DOS Editor, save it, go back into the coloring book, print the picture, and it included my custom message.

After that, I was completely hooked on computers. Much to the annoyance of the family, you couldn’t get me off the computer. I was figuring out how to do things. Dad would show me stuff in DOS and programs like Norton Utilities. After DOS, it was GeoWorks, Windows 3.1, multimedia (CD-ROMs) and modems, Windows 95, Windows 98… Santa often brought new hardware, software, and games for Christmas. When the family computer got upgraded, I was handed down the old PC hardware. That’s when I learned to build computers (assemble computer systems from compatible parts).

When people asked me ‘what do you want to do when you grow up’ my answer was ‘something with computers.’ Dad knew I like to put them together and figure out what I could do with them. At some point he said: ‘there are people that just manage computer setups.’ That lead me to take nearly all computer classes offered in high school including helping teachers with their personal computers, a degree in Information Systems and Technology, and working professionally on computers while I was still in high school. Though I always credited Dad with getting me into computers, he would always say ‘yeah, but I don’t understand anything he’s doing with them now’ as in I was doing things beyond his wildest dreams.

WHBS awards & Hoty’s retirement.
Dad is in the front, left of center. Hoty’s are behind him. I’m in the upper right in a gray shirt (2010).

In the late ’80’s-early ’90’s, Dad found more time was required for family and stepped away from Amateur Radio. He always kept his license current and would often turn on the radio to listen. Between having the radio on, taking me to meetings, public service events, and, of course, using the autopatch when I was younger, I started to take an interest in becoming a licensed radio amateur. I started to study for the exams in probably 6th grade. I could knock out the questions on commission rules, operating, and practices from being around Dad. I hadn’t yet absorbed the required electronics knowledge for the exam because that was like a foreign language.

A couple years later in 1999, I passed the Novice and Technician exams. Dad found a mint-in-box version of his first radio, a Kenwood TR-2500, and gave it to me as a reward for passing the exams. Just after I was licensed, the FCC restructured Part 97 licensing in 2000. Since Dad was licensed and still held a Technician class license prior to 1987, he only had to compete a “paper upgrade” to General class. He decided to do a little studying and made it to the top, Amateur Extra. He soon joined the VE program to administer exams but I don’t believe he was ever on the air outside of the 2m and 440 bands. Though it was an accomplishment for him to reach Amateur Extra, he never would be as active on air or involved with clubs as he once was. I later followed in his technical footsteps helping with repeater upkeep and Information Technology work for clubs, and Skywarn. He also got my mom and sister licensed.

Almost 10 years ago, I decided to get into HF. We spent most of a summer building out my station. Where to string the wire antenna, how to tie it down, a pole to accommodate the connection to the antenna, running PVC pipe for the coax run, digging trenches, installing grounding rods, running antennas into that old travel trailer, and building a large table/desk inside for an operating position. Dad was very good at fabricating things. Though he studied electronics, he was just as good at mechanics. He often put more time and thought into making things not only functional but practical.

After I was appointed Technical Coordinator and giving presentations to clubs around the section, he enjoyed traveling to these meetings seeing me give those presentations. It was an opportunity for him to experience other clubs in the state. He would still say ‘I don’t understand most of what he’s doing.’

Dad loved dogs too. Gerri and Tom with the new member of the family, Kaytie (2022, Mike Kopcak)

Though he worked weekends and liked to keep his weekend pay, Dad would make the trip to Hamvention with me quite often. Dave – KB9VZU, whom I met through Ham Nation and the D-STAR After Show net, would meet up with us at Hamvention. After learning of my dad’s passing, he told me “Your dad and I talked about you quite often and your dad was proud of you.” Though Dad may not have understood what I was doing with computers and ham radio, he was proud of the good things I did with what he showed me. I believe that as he was still present until the end.

Dad had just retired in February of 2022 from the United States Post Office and a couple months later, celebrated 46 years with my mom. He was at the main facility on Orange Ave in Downtown Cleveland maintaining the mail sorting machines. During his last year or so of work, back issues prevented him from walking normally. Having back pain throughout most of his life this was the worst I’d seen. Going in for surgery in February this year, he hoped to correct this problem and be as good as new, and obviously live forever. By early accounts, home recovery was going well. Couple months later, he starts having issues standing, keeping his balance, and recovery seems to be backsliding. He was supposed to travel with me to Hamvention this year but called off due to his condition.

The Monday after Hamvention, I helped take him to a follow-up visit with his doctor. Dad never returned home. In his condition, doctor said go to the emergency room and thus began, what I call, his tour of the hospital system. I won’t go into details, aside from my family’s lives were a living hell.

A ham buddy accurately described our experience: him and his wife were EMTs for over a decade. They have an understanding of terminology and standards of care. They know how things should be handled. Average people who don’t have inside knowledge of the system have no idea: anything they’re being told is true, if their loved one is being cared for properly, or about alternative options. “It is terrible” he stated. Terrible puts our experience with the healthcare system nicely.

Regardless, my dad is at rest and no longer suffering. This month would have been his 71st birthday. Grieving was very hard for me as Dad mentored and influenced me into (not only) my career choice but as an Amateur Radio licensee. Losing a parent has got to be one of the worst things ever. My faith really helped me make peace and helped me deal with his passing. My family is really impressed with the homily Deacon Travis from our church gave for my dad. He talked a lot about him being involved in electronics and Ham Radio. Deacon Travis did a fantastic job speaking about Dad’s life.

QCWA was planning to give Dad an award for being licensed 40 years. Unfortunately, Dad didn’t make their meeting but Bob – W2THU gave me the award and it was displayed in the casket at his wake. Our family would like to thank everyone who took time and stopped by during visitation or attended Dad’s mass. It really means a lot to have support from the Amateur Radio family.

Enjoy the hamfest in the sky and good DX, Dad.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – September 2023 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Sadly, I want to open this month’s OSJ by reporting the passing of Jeff’s dad, father, mentor and Elmer, Thomas A Kopcak – N8ETP, age 70, of Westlake, OH on Thursday, September 28th. Further information is available at:

https://www.chambersfuneral.com/obituary/thomas-a-kopcak

Please keep Jeff and his family (all hams!) in your thoughts and prayers…….

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – August 2023 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Hey gang,

The Ohio Section lost a friend and advocate last month. Announcements came from our Section Manager regarding Jim Yoder – W8ERW’s passing. Jim was my predecessor in this Technical Coordinator role.

I met Jim as the TC when he gave a presentation on Ham Radio MESH. In 2014, I was wiring a series of articles published in club newsletters on Raspberry Pi’s and Software Defined Radio (SDR) receivers. Jim had read one of those before presenting at the meeting. Discussing MESH ahead of his presentation with a group at the meeting, he stopped and said to me ‘you’re someone I need to talk to.’ Now I was in trouble.

After the presentation and over the next few days via E-mail, he was recruiting me for a Technical Specialist appointment within the section. ‘We need more Specialists familiar with digital modes and newer technologies.’ I didn’t know much about the technical side of the section but Jim answered all my questions and saw the appointment through. He encouraged to remain in contact and let him know things I was working on. He promoted my work and presentations in the Ohio Section Journal.

Jim lived in northwest Ohio near where I had previously gone to school. Though I left the area, I was making regular trips to Wood County ARC club meetings. We always talked about meeting up at a meeting or getting together while out that way.

Sometime later, changes in Jim’s personal life took him away from the Ohio Section to the North Texas Section. This left his cabinet position vacant. As I was told, Jim liked the work I had been doing and, being a younger ham, would bring down the average age of the Section appointees. He recommended me to fill his position. Boy, I was really in trouble. That was eight years ago this month.

Though Jim had left the Section, he was always there to make sure all my questions were answered and that I didn’t get into too much trouble. I definitely messaged him more than a few times asking how things should be handled and “what should I do about…?”

As I was managing to figure out my new role, we didn’t communicate as much. I took his comments as an opportunity to balance out the Technical Specialists with knowledge in digital and newer technology to form a more well-rounded group. I ran into him again in the Section booth at Hamvention. Figuring he was up for the trek to Hamvention, he informed me he was relocating back to the Section.

He maintained his Technical Specialist appointment throughout his moves and once again became a valuable resource to the Ohio Section. We finally did meet at a club meeting when he presented on MESH and demoed MESH devices.

During the lock downs, on my crusade to knock things off my ham radio to-do list, I purchased and flashed a MikroTik hAP ac lite device to finally be a part of the Ham Radio MESH network. Bring there are no other nodes near me and not having any high-profile equipment, I couldn’t do much with it. Jim allowed me to tunnel my device over the Internet with his in Fremont. This afforded me the ability to interact with devices within RF range of his and access services provided by those nodes. He promoted a new use of technology in ham radio called Hamshack Hotline. He created and maintained a list of users in northwest Ohio and later expanded to the entire Section.

MikroTik hAP ac lite

Jim still emailed me interesting topics, things he found, and things he was working on. One of his last was linking northwest Ohio (which I’m linked into) and southwest Ohio MESH clusters. At that time, they had 111 total nodes and were expecting to add more with the demos at Hamvention this year.

Thanks, Jim, for all the knowledge, Elmering, help, being a supporter, and generally being a friend. Rest in Peace, W8ERW/SK.

I was talking with our Section Manager because he was having trouble getting E-mail through to me. During the conversation he mentioned the ARRL’s E-mail forwarder has been having issues for a while. My most recent round of issues started about the 4th of July. The forwarder service provides the callsign[@]arrl[.]net E-mail addresses.

Though I’m receiving most messages, the SM had issues, I’ve had some issues sending to other users. Here’s an example of a message the “sender” might receive, the person whom sent a message to an arrl.net user when the message was not delivered:

<K8JTK@arrl.net>: host mx1.forwardemail.net[138.197.213.185] said: 421 Try
again later; If you need help, forward this email to
support@forwardemail.net or visit https://forwardemail.net ; Please note we
are an email service provider and most likely not your intended recipient.
(in reply to end of DATA command)

A key indicator is “forwardemail.net.” Forward Email is the service used by the ARRL for the forwarder.

Also, people don’t read those messages and just say “your E-mail is bouncing.” Being the IT person that I am: what is the error? Users being users: “I don’t know, I didn’t read it.”

I recall maybe two other times I’ve had issues with the forwarder. Technical Specialist Jason – N8EI manages the mailing list for his club. He says they see delivery issues quite often with the forwarder including messages not being delivered and club messages being flagged as spam despite having all the necessary verifications in place (known as DKIM). When users complain they don’t receive messages, his club requires an alternative, non arrl.net, address.

If you are looking for better free E-mail account, I have been using a free Zoho Mail personal account for the past four years. Zoho is geared toward business accounts and services. I’ve noticed little-to-no unexpected downtime compared to the provider used at my work (*cough* *cough* Microsoft *cough*). I found Zoho after getting fed up with other big-name free E-mail services. The last straw was when an Outlook free account stopped being able to receive mail. When people complain about G-Mail flagging legitimate newsletters as spam or not being delivered at all, I’ve always received them using Zoho Mail. I use Fastmail (paid) for my personal domains. Both are fantastic services.

Though legitimate messages are being blocked through the arrl.net address, I have been receiving a ton of spam. Mostly from APAC (Asia-Pacific) countries. Maybe it’s related to the ‘issues.’

As for my alternatives: me at my callsign dot radio *or* me at my callsign dot org – will work.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – July 2023 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Hey gang,

Hamshack Hotline is a private free to use VoIP telecommunications phone service put together for the ham radio community by hams. It is a way to enhance communication between ham shacks and even Emergency Operation Centers. I, and other Technical Specialists, have written many articles in the OSJ about this service. It’s a great use of technology to enhance communication, even if it doesn’t use RF.

Cracks started to show problems when Hamshack Hotline had a falling out with members of their board and support platform moderators. It’s their project and they can run it however they want. I no longer recommend nor support this project. Unfortunately, they are the largest ham-based telco provider.

Hamshack Hotline has many features including “RF Links” which are extensions that dial into a AllStar Link node. Termed RF links typically because the ASL node is connected to a repeater or simplex radio.

After linking my multimode system to Hamshack Hotline, some HH users reported being disconnected after 30-40 seconds. I didn’t experience disconnects using my extension and neither did the majority of users. Doing some troubleshooting, I had those users try other RF link extensions to see if they were disconnected after the same length of time. Users confirmed the same experience on other RF links. It wasn’t only limited to my configuration.

Back in March 2021, I opened a ticket with the HHOPS helpdesk identifying symptoms my users were experiencing. This ended up being an exercise in futility. Included in my what-I-do-know details, I listed callsigns and extensions of users on HH whom experienced disconnects. Those details could possibly be correlated to a specific HH server, device type, device model, or manufacturer. It was like I traveled to another dimension. The support person thought I owned all those extensions (and callsigns? – I guess) experiencing the issue. What a total waste of time. Ticket was closed by the helpdesk as an issue with the devices experiencing the problem.

Fast forward to March 2023, I get a support ticket from Hamshack Hotline saying my node is sending out “SMS beacons” across the network. “This can cause all phones that are sms RFC compliant to drop the call after approximately 30-45 seconds into the call.” Guess they found the cause of what I originally reported two years earlier. SMS (same standard as SMS text messaging) beacons sent by AllStar Link nodes caused phones on HH to hangup. It went on to indicate changes on a HamVoIP based AllStar node is a two-line configuration change. Changes for other software, such as native AllStar Link, is more involved.

I run a hub on Virtual Private Servers (VPS) in the, so-called, cloud. My system runs native AllStar Link. I’m unable to run HamVoIP since that distribution is for Raspberry Pi/ARM processors only. Additionally, recent major updates have further separated HamVoIP from AllStar Link. They’re almost two different systems. Not to mention HamVoIP has been accused of license violations. These made me uneasy about the future of the HamVoIP project and I’ve contributed to the ASL project. As a result, I moved my personal node from HamVoIP to native ASL.

Following provided instructions by Hamshack Hotline, reached out to them because I’m not running HamVoIP on my hub. I was put in touch with another person that had the “fix” for ASL. Two things were needed to disable SMS beacons: (1) create a private node for Hamshack Hotline connections. A private node in ASL are the reserved node numbers 1000 through 1999. I did this anyway on my hub. (2) Disable pushing CALLERID to the RPT module. RPT is the module that handles ham radio functionality in Asterisk. As one would expect, CALLERID contains unique data about the caller. When used with RPT, this is typically extension, node, or callsign information.

Having a decent level of experience working with Allstar configuring hubs, nodes, IAX clients, softphones, and desk phones, I knew messages were pushed to other connected nodes and devices. These exchanges show up as a list of connected nodes on a status page such as Allmon or Supermon, within apps, on a display, in logs, in the Asterisk CLI (command line interface), on the ASL website, etc. I didn’t have the need to know this exchange was done via SMS messages, but knew there was some mechanism used for reporting information to other connected nodes. I had seen references it was an “SMS message,” but never confirmed.

My former Hamshack Hotline extension

While working with the person provided by Hamshack Hotline, the comment was made: ‘this is ham radio, I don’t know why we’re using SMS text messages.’ Taken aback, said ‘that’s how the network knows about other connected nodes.’ This person, who came up with (at least) part of the solution to fix this SMS beacon issue, didn’t know or understand Asterisk clients exchanged information with other nodes. I’m always irked by required mandatory changes where they don’t understand what they are changing, the broader impact of said changes or to even ask the question and address concerns. I blew it off and gave their solution a whirl.

Below are Asterisk and AllStar Link extensions.conf examples. These are from various documentation sources showing different ways ID information is passed to the RPT module. 50394 is my hub node and used as an example node number.

AllStar Nodes:

  • exten => ${NODE},1,rpt,${NODE}

VoIP clients (IAXrpt, DVSwitch, Zopier, phones):

  • exten => ${NODE},n,Rpt,${NODE}|P|${CALLERID(name)}
  • exten => ${NODE},1,rpt(${NODE}|X)
  • exten=50394,1,Rpt,50394|X
  • exten => 50394,n,Rpt,50394|S|${CALLERID(name)}
  • exten => 50394,n,Rpt,50394|Pv|${CALLERID(name)}

As I’m working through the provided Hamshack Hotline configuration changes for ASL, I realize their proposed changes will cause problems. Omitting CALLERID means the connection exists but there is no indication of the call in RPT or facilities that use RPT. Users would will no longer see their connection on dashboards and sysops no longer have the control to disconnect individual HH users.

Lack of control and visibility is big problem for me as the sysop of a hub to see who is connected in case of problems. Users will dead key/forget to unmute, not press the # key when they are done talking, or some another innocent mistake – most of those happen during a single net – or someone is being a lid. I’ve used logs to validate reports and contacted users providing information about a situation which they’re likely unaware.

I raised my concerns to Hamshack Hotline about the solution not being good for sysops to control their systems. I was blamed (again) that my system ‘wasn’t working like the others’ because ‘no one else is having the same problems with these changes.’ My guess, results were confused with the HamVoIP distribution or that ASL v1 didn’t act the same as v2 (which I am using). Not having the time and being frustrated (but still respectful), I did not investigate further. Hindsight being 20/20, I had some false hope my feedback would be used to devise a better solution. I can’t be the only one voicing similar concern. In reality, they didn’t care.

Last day of Hamvention, traveling back home, I get a message from Hamshack Hotline that my RF link extension is in violation, been disabled, and in danger of termination if not corrected. Somewhere between March and mid-May, it became mandatory to participate as a HH RF link, I needed to provide a “clean” transmission (without SMS beacons). The insanity wheel began to spin all over again: here’s the solution. I’m on ASL. Contact this guy for the ASL workarounds. That doesn’t meet my requirements. Too bad. Ugggh.

Finally, a Hamshack Hotline Sr. Engineer provided some details but stopped short of offering alternative solutions or a middle ground compromise. He indicated specific issues were caused by different “flavors” and versions of AllStar Link. There can be multiple reasons that cause SMS messages to be sent, not only registering CALLERID with RPT. Admitted there was pushback from others complaining about call signs not showing up in “third party” software such as Allmon and Supermon.

Hamshack Hotline tracked the issue to “SMS RFC COMPLIANT” phones. “Newer phones are compliant.” Beacons being sent from Asterisk/ASL are (apparently) not RFC compliant. When a non-compliant SMS message is sent to a compliant phone, that phone simply hangs up or drops the call. “Older discontinued Cisco SPA phones are no longer RFC compliant” because the SMS RFC “changed” after the time those phone models were discontinued. Hamshack Hotline changed models of phones they support. Newer models follow the current SMS RFC specification. Lastly, did state I could submit a new RF link extension request if I ever change AllStar flavors.

It’s not only “third party” applications but the Asterisk RPT module doesn’t show the connection either. I provided examples of this. Presumably he is talking about HamVoIP being a working “flavor” of AllStar, which I cannot run on my servers. Hamshack Hotline admitted concerns were had by others and from all accounts, did nothing about those concerns. I mean at a minimum, reach out to the AllStar Link project in the hope of solving this problem globally for all current and future users whom want a HH RF link extension. ASL is open source and on GitHub. HH could even create a fix and do a pull request (request their code changes are brought into the main code repository) all on their own. I see no evidence this was attempted.

A middle ground solution could have been proposed to simply disconnect the ASL private node assigned to Hamshack Hotline extensions. It’s not great as other HH users could be confused as to why they no longer hear the net or conversations. I still lose logging. Suggest running HamVoIP on a separate Raspberry Pi and connect it over the Internet to the main ASL hub. Not great either as I am using VPS’ in a commercial datacenter for reliability, resiliency, and access to better resources. Though it wouldn’t be my first device not in the same datacenter. I’ve also heard of Raspberry Pi installations hosted in data centers for rent. Somehow, HH could make a note stating users may experience disconnects when using my node. Regardless, no alternatives were suggested or offered.

As I had family issues to tend after Dayton, my patience was razor thin but I don’t think it would have made one bit of difference. We came to an impasse. The Sr. Engineer stated my RF link extension would be reclaimed. I responded back to reclaim my phone extension as well. I have no desire to be a part of or further support Hamshack Hotline. This experience and complaints from users whom have received similar treatment, I do not recommend the use of Hamshack Hotline.

There are currently two alternative ham radio telco solutions, Hams Over IP and AmateurWire. Based on prior knowledge, I’d imagine these systems could encounter a similar situation. I reached out to both for comment. Roger from AmateurWire responded indicating users have not complained about any similar issue but they have a smaller userbase of about 200 extensions. He indicated the situation would not be handled the same as Hamshack Hotline.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – June 2023 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Hey gang,

As Technical Coordinator for the Ohio Section, I oversee the section’s Technical Specialists. We are here to promote technical advances and the experimentation side of the hobby by encouraging amateurs in the section to share their technical achievements in QST, at club meetings, in club newsletters, and at hamfests and conventions. We’re available to assist program committees in finding or providing suitable programs for local club meetings, ARRL hamfests, and conventions within the section. When called upon, serve as advisors for RFI issues and work with ARRL officials and other appointees for technical advice.

Technical Specialists are a cadre of qualified and competent individuals here for the “advancement of the radio art,” a profound obligation incurred under the rules of the FCC. TS’s support myself and the section in two main areas of responsibility: Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) and technical information. They can specialize in one or more areas or be generalists with knowledge in many areas. Responsibilities range from serving as consultants or advisors to local hams or speaking at local club meetings on popular topics. In the Ohio Section, there are 14 qualified specialists.

RFI/EMI (electromagnetic interference) includes harmful interference that seriously degrades, obstructs, or repeatedly interrupts a radio communication service such as ham radio or public service agencies. RFI sources range from bad power insulators, industrial control systems, nearby transmitters or poorly made transmitters, personal devices like computers, monitors, printers, game consoles – to grow lights, failing or poorly made transformers, and those devices hams brag about getting for cheap from China. Our Technical Specialists would offer advice to help track down interference or locate bozo stations when called upon. Technical information is wide-ranging, everything from antennas to Zumspots.

How can we help? The knowledge and abilities of YOUR Technical Specialists are really quite impressive:

  • Amplifiers
  • Antennas (fixed, portable, emergency operation)
  • Antenna systems such as towers, guying, coax/feedlines, and baluns
  • Boat anchors (tube technology)
  • Computer systems – Windows, Linux, Raspberry Pi
  • Digital voice and data modes – including D-STAR, DMR, Fusion, NXDN, P25, APRS, IGates, packet, TNCs, MT63, FT8/4, Olivia, PSK, etc.
  • Direction finding
  • Electronics and circuits, including teachers whom have taught electronics classes
  • Former repair technicians
  • Home brew
  • Internet linking (Voice over IP, aka VoIP) – Echolink, AllStar/HamVoIP, DVSwitch, PBX/Asterisk
  • Mobile installations – HF, VHF/UHF, antennas
  • Narrow Band Emergency Messaging System (NBEMS) – Fldigi and Flmsg
  • Networking – AMPRNet, routers, port forwarding, ISPs, firewalls, mesh, microwave
  • Power supplies
  • Propagation
  • Repeaters, controllers, and high-profile systems
  • RFI caused by power lines and consumer appliances
  • RF safety
  • SHARES stations (SHAred RESources – Department of Homeland Security HF radio program)
  • Software Defined Radios (SDR)
  • Tower safety
  • Professional certifications such as Motorola Certified Technicians, Master Electrician, Certified Journeyman Electronics Technician, General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL), ETA certifications, and Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) certifications and affiliations. Marine Radio Operator Permit holders.

This impressive list of qualifications are available resources to all in the Ohio Section. Looking for guidance in one of these areas? Need a program for your club meeting? How about a technical talk or forum at a hamfest? Assistance or direction on a project? My contact info is near my picture and on the arrl-ohio.org website. I’ll assist getting you in touch with an appropriate Technical Specialist.

With July around the corner, my favorite event, 13 Colonies Special Event will be on the air July 1st (9 am) – July 7th (midnight). There are 13 special event stations, one for each of the original 13 colonies. Three bonus stations include GB13COL (Great Britain), WM3PEN (Philadelphia), and TM13COL (French). A station does not need to work all 13 colonies to receive a certificate. The three bonus stations do not need to be contacted for a clean sweep. Good luck!

Earlier this month, I was recognized by the Virginia Emcomm group for participating in Winlink Wednesday for 100 weeks and received a nice certificate to commemorate the occasion. Ohio has 5 stations, as of this writing and by my count, in the WW Century Club. The original NCS, KW6GB, informed me about the net when I attended Winterfest in Annandale, VA while on a business trip. The baton has since been passed on to KN4LQN. It is an interesting concept and a way to keep activity on Winlink. As a result of doing peer-to-peer (P2P) Winlink messages for this net, I found I have a pretty good communication path into Virginia and the D.C. area. See my write-up on Winlink nets.

Steve – K8BBK and myself after receiving recognition for work on the club website in 2007. Picture by N8ETP.

It is with great sadness that I report two longtime members of the Wood County Amateur Radio Club became silent keys. Stephen “Steve” McEwen – K8BBK became an SK on March 10, 2023. Steve was one of the leaders that revived the club in 2005 after the formation of a local ARES group. After one of the ARES meetings, Steve asked me if I had any ideas to make the club [WCARC] better. I was annoyed (still am) with outdated club websites. At that time, the club’s website was just that. An example, the repeater system PL had changed some years earlier but the website still listed the old one. Soon after that conversation, I’ve been maintaining the club’s website though I’ve returned back to the Cleveland area. Steve also got me to give my first ever club presentation on the topic of Echolink.

Steve was always engineering something. He worked as a Chief Engineer and later CEO for Henry Filters, a local industrial coolant filtration company, until he retired in 2001. Visiting his home, he practically had a full machine shop in his basement. His house had systems he engineered including a radiant floor heating system.

Myself and Bill – WD8JWJ with my nomination of Life Membership in the Wood County Amateur Radio Club in 2012. Picture by N8ETP.

William “Bill” Wilkins – WD8JWJ became an SK a little over a month later on April 27, 2023. I can’t say exactly when I met Bill for the first time, it was probably at one of the breakfast meetings. Between cracking jokes and giving insightful advice, he was a person anyone could talk to. He had stories from co-owning a local video rental business for nearly 30 years, known for its selection of nearly 30,000 titles. I remember when he announced they were closing the business at one of those breakfast meetings. It would be the end of an era for a long-time local business.

When I returned back home after attending BGSU, I would regularly make it out for their breakfast meetings and, on occasion a presentation. Giving a presentation at one such meeting in 2012, Bill recognized me for service to the club with a nomination of Life Membership in the Wood County Amateur Radio Club. I’m eternally grateful to be honored with a Life Membership in an amazing club by such a respected member of the club.

Enjoy the hamfest in the sky, guys. Goodbye and 73, Steve and Bill.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – May 2023 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Hey gang,

Another Hamvention has come and gone. Unfortunately, my dad, N8ETP, didn’t make it as he is recovering from a medical procedure from earlier this year. I was flying solo again. As most of the OSJ readers are in Ohio, Dayton is a few-hour drive for most of us. It’s almost exactly 3 hours from my QTH to the hotel.

After dinner Thursday night, I went searching for digital repeaters – NXDN and P25 in particular. RepeaterBook didn’t have NXDN repeaters in the Dayton area. Guess I didn’t need to bring that radio. There was a P25 repeater I found last year and could hit from my hotel. Listening to conversations, there was mention of a P25 repeater at the Xenia site but I wasn’t able to find the details for it last year. This year, I found the Miami Valley P25 Ham Radio Network website. Their site lists repeaters on the network, including the information I needed for the Xenia site.

P25 is another digital standard used mostly by public safety agencies. It’s similar to DMR in that there are 7-digit IDs, talkgroups, and zones. Instead of a color code, P25 has NAC or network access code. Like DMR, P25 was also developed for commercial use and then adopted to ham radio. The statewide MARCS system, Greater Cleveland Radio Communications Network (GCRCN), and Northwest Ohio Regional Public Safety System are all P25 systems. There aren’t many “ham friendly” P25 radio options. Most are repurposed/used commercial radios from Motorola, Harris, or EF Johnson.

Crystal set

According to their programming guide, Miami Valley P25 sites have been upgraded to “version 2” programming of their repeaters. This may be why the talkgroups I had from last year were completely different for the Dayton repeater.

With tower sites in Shelby, Miami, Champaign, Montgomery, Greene, and Warren counties, the “MVP25” is an interconnected network of UHF (440) P25 repeaters. Each site has backup power and each repeater can operate independently when a network link failure occurs. Sites are linked with direct network connections that presumably don’t use the internet. No cloud services of any kind are utilized. The network can only be accessed via RF. No hotspot and no MMDVM connections are possible.

Reading and programming my Motorola XTS radio for the MVP25 network, I learned more about options in the software. One example is “selective squelch” which will only unmute the radio for transmissions on the selected talkgroup. Their programming template and examples helped me understand their objective and made programming easy.

Each repeater has an “MVL” (Miami Valley Link) talkgroup which is heard on all MVP25 linked repeaters and a “STE” (site) talkgroup for conversations on the local repeater. MVL is the primary talkgroup on the repeater. Users wanting to carry on a conversation locally can override the MV talkgroup by using the STE talkgroup.

Crystal set designer and builder (Vietnam veteran hat)

They recommended using the bank switch (A-B-C switch) for switching talkgroups on a single repeater site. In the context of my radio, Bank A = Zone 1, Bank B = Zone 2, Bank C = Zone 3. This was a neat idea because, for example, channel 5 in zone A & B would be the Xenia Hamvention repeater site. Zone A would be the programming for linked communication using the MVL talkgroup. Zone B would be the local site talkgroup for each repeater. Selecting channel 5 (Xenia) using the channel knob, then selecting bank A would be Xenia MVL talkgroup configuration, Bank B would be Xenia STE talkgroup configuration. Channel 8 would be the Dayton site. Switching to A would be the MVL talkgroup and B would be STE Dayton local.

Since my radio is front panel programming capable, Zone A was the FPP (I didn’t see a way to change this). In their programming guide, bank A became B. Bank B became bank C. Their template had the same exact “UCOM1” (UHF P25 simplex frequency) frequency for every channel in bank C. I took this to mean it’s a ‘flex’ bank in cases of radios that have a reserved bank. I didn’t lose anything because “UCOM1” was also channel 1 in the MVL and STE banks.

Previously, I had only used my P25 radio with my MMDVM hotspots. Programming multiple sites on the same network was a new experience. I learned about copying the current selected entry and export/import to make copies of zones. Kudos to the admins, designers, and those whom wrote the programming guide. It is well thought out and the guide made a lot of sense.

Friday, I hit the flea market. I wasn’t looking for too much this year – either new or used. I was in the market for a second set of Motorola CDM radios. I am using a UHF CDM for an AllStar node and I have a VHF model too. I would like to pick up a second set for spare radios. Also was looking for a second UHF XTS and a new to me VHF. No one was giving them away.

George – W5JDX and Mike – VE3MIC from AmateurLogic.tv along with Chip – K9MIT

In the “coolest thing I’ve ever seen at a hamfest” category was the life-sized crystal set someone built and had on display in the flea market. There were no plans, no diagrams, no anything. It was all in his head. Nothing written up. Nothing diagrammed. The only thing powered was a solar powered amplifier for received audio. If you didn’t see this thing in the flea market, you missed out. The builder didn’t have a name or call displayed unfortunately.

I wanted to hit the inside stuff on Saturday, but instead ran into George – W5JDX and Mike – VE3MIC from AmateurLogic in front of the ICOM booth. Helped them do some recording for their latest episode (which should be out by the time this is published, episode 181). Then we all hung out with Chip – K9MIT of “Chip Stick” fame from Ham Nation and Mike’s cousin (forget the call). A good time was had by all.

Didn’t spend a lot of money this year at Hamvention. Emile would approve (joke for ALTV viewers). Talking with groups and vendors got the wheels turning on some ideas – such as devices to use with my MESH node. On my way home, I stopped by the secondary hamfest called MicroCenter and spent some money there on some deals they had.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – April 2023 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

You can receive the Journal and other Ohio Section news by joining the mailing list Tom has setup. You do not need to be a member of the ARRL, Ohio Section, or even a ham to join the mailing list. Please sign up!

If you are an ARRL member and reside in the Ohio Section, update your mailing preferences to receive Ohio Section news in your inbox. Those residing outside the Ohio section will need to use the mailing list link above.  Updating your ARRL profile will deliver news from the section where you reside (if the leadership chooses to use this method).

  • Go to www.arrl.org and click the Login button.
  • Login
  • When logged in successfully, it will say “Hello <Name>” in place of the Login button where <Name> is your name.  Click your Name.  This will take you to the “My Account” page.
  • On the left hand side, under the “Communication” heading (second from the bottom), click Opt In/Out
  • To the right of the “Opt In/Out” heading, click Edit
  • Check the box next to “Division and Section News.”  If it is already checked, you are already receiving the Ohio Section Journal.
  • Click Save
  • There should now be a green check mark next to “Division and Section News.”  You’re all set!

Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

Hey gang,

For my January article, when I saw KE8VIY’s presentation demonstrating receiving and processing ADS-B aircraft broadcasts using SDRs, it inspired me to explore mine again. I’ve had a request or two to cover them here in the OSJ. There was also discussion about them after my recent presentation for Cuyahoga County ARES.

Software defined radio, or SDR, is a technology that replaces analog components such as mixers, filters, amplifiers, and detectors by implementing them in software. Like most communication systems, an antenna receives the signal passing it to the RF hardware. RF hardware, on receivers especially, is a wide-band VFO with a typical range from a couple MHz up to about 2 GHz. The IF, or baseband, is sampled by an analog-to-digital converter converting the signal to bits. Software is used to control frequency range received and process the digitized signal. Signal processing is often handled by a PC, smartphone, or tablet. However, some have powerful on-board processing. The processed signal is then handed over to the sound interface for listening with ordinary speakers or headphones.

Signal processing could be as simple as selecting AM or FM and listening to an analog radio station. Processing could include a chain software to further process a received signal. Examples would be to decode digital modulation, such as P25 or DMR, then pass human intelligible audio to the sound interface. Other processing may turn received data into text in cases such as ADS-B, POCSAG (pagers), APRS, and packet reception.

Most common are SDR receivers. There are transceivers, like the HackRF One, and many ham radio offerings. Probably the most well-known vendor is Flex Radio because they’ve been doing government work and have been in the ham radio market for a long time. Other ham offerings include Elad, Xiegu, and the big-name radio manufacturers like ICOM, Kenwood, and Yaesu.

I’ve used the “RTL-SDR” for about ten years. These use the low-cost Realtek RTL2832 chipset and commonly sold under the name “NooElec R820T SDR & DVB-T NESDR mini.” Originally designed for DVB-T reception (European digital broadcast TV standard), it was found these could be hacked into a general 3 MHz wideband receiver. These were a focus of my series of articles called “Dongle Bits” published in 2015.

NooElec RTL-SDR dongle (nooelec.com)

NooElec SDRs were inexpensive at $20 each. At that price, I bought a bunch. A pair were almost always in use on my main desktop PC for trunked radio decoding of the statewide MARCS and regional GCRCN radio systems. A couple were in the shack for playing around doing radio things and another couple were in the travel bag mostly for trunked radio decoding while traveling.

A problem with early NooElec SDRs, they were not frequency stable. “Warm-up” time was needed in order to stabilize frequency reception. Sounds like tube radios. Some recommended 45 minutes to an hour for them to warmup. Seemed excessive. I didn’t see much change after about 15 minutes.

PPM offsets for my dongles ranged from the lower 40’s to upper 50’s. When these dongles are used (as intended) to receive an 8 MHz (or so) wide DVB-T broadcast, a couple PPM isn’t going to make a huge difference. Receiving a 12.5 kHz wide P25 signal, 50 PPM will put the receiver on a different frequency.

If I heard police or fire sirens and wanted to fire up Unitrunker with the RTL-SDR dongles, it would be 2-3 minutes before signals could be decoded intelligibly. It would take that long for the dongle to warm up enough to fall within range of its determined PPM. I lived with adjusting PPM/offsets because ten years ago, I was too cheap to buy the TXCO controlled dongles.

Since whenever I started with RTL-SDRs, a number of mine have gotten destroyed over the years. One shattered when I dropped it after Dayton a number of years ago. Another was no longer detected when plugged in. Most recently, one had some kind of firmware corruption which caused the device ID to change making it no longer recognized by drivers.

RTL-SDR blog v3 dongle (rtl-sdr.com)

After Guy’s talk on ADS-B, I went and looked at the prices of RTL-SDR dongles. The price of TXCO controlled dongles had fell to $33. These are quality ones released by the RTL-SDR Blog site available through Amazon. TXCO were $60+ ten years ago when I went the cheap route. TXCO RTL-SDR dongles have an oscillator to stabilize the tuner to within one or two PPM. I bought a round of frequency stable dongles to replace the RIP ones and remaining working dongles. Another advantage to these RTL-SDR.com dongles, they come with an SMA connector as opposed to the MCX connector on the NooElec dongles. SMA is a standard antenna connector used by many ham radio manufactures for handhelds.

TXCO dongles are worth it. Since they’re much lower in price than they used to be, there’s no reason to screw around with ones that don’t have a stable receiver. Now, starting Unitrunker it takes seconds to start decoding P25 signals. Product description indicates there is passive cooling. I will say they do get quite warm.

Some programs I’ve been mentioning throughout: Unitrunker is a program for decoding trunked radio protocols through discriminator (tap) audio or an SDR. It can decode APCO P25, EDACS 4800/9600, Motorola Type II, and MPT1327 systems. One device monitors the control channel, another device is sent to receive voice traffic on other frequencies. Unitrunker can’t decode voice traffic itself. Another program, such as DSDPlus, decodes voice frames.

DSDPlus (often stylized DSD+) decodes multiple digital audio formats including P25 Phase 1, ProVoice, X2-TDMA, DMR/MotoTRBO, NXDN, and D-STAR (no audio). At one point, DSD did decode D-STAR voice frames because I played with it on a D-STAR net and the net controls were quite impressed. Maybe it was an addon or beta that never became part of a final release. I remember compiling it in CygWin, a Linux terminal on Windows before Windows had WSL. DSDPlus offered a “Fastlane” program which afforded more frequent updates and faster access to new features for a small donation.

Both programs have not had releases in years. Unitrunker’s last release was in 2017 and DSD’s last official release was in 2015 – with the last Fastlane update in early 2020. Unitrunker has, what I call an “eternal beta,” version available in a Google Group. I haven’t seen any reference to that Group except in the Radio Reference forum. One must be accepted to the group in order to access the download. When I played with the beta a few years ago, I had problems decoding the MARCS system which I didn’t have using the latest available 1.0.33.6 legacy version.

Another program I started using which does the job of Unitrunker, DSDPlus, some recording & streaming addons is called sdrtrunk. It has a really nice feature set. Though, I think it’s really setup to be a different program than Unitrunker. It was overwhelming first listening to a radio system.

Different talkgroups were coming out of the left and right channels, it doesn’t follow conversations on successive transmissions, displayed talkgroup labels use the Radio Reference Alpha Tag, not Description tags which Unitrunker uses. When a transmission on a talkgroup ends, Unitrunker will linger for subsequent transmissions on the same talkgroup. If there are no more keyups on that talkgroup within a few seconds, it will move on to another active talkgroup. Sdrtrunk will immediately jump to another active talkgroup when a transmission completes – making it hard to follow back-and-forth conversations. It seems like only talkgroups of interest should be loaded and not a whole statewide system. Alpha Tags are shortened descriptions intended for radio displays versus the full Description of a talkgroup. Both are fields in the Radio Reference database. An example of an Alpha Tag is “18-CCAN” which is short for “Community Care Ambulance – Cuyahoga,” the description. Description means a whole lot more to me about the agency. I didn’t find system technical details such as peer sites listed in the program.

sdrtrunk (github.com/DSheirer/sdrtrunk)

One thing I did notice right away, the decoder built into sdrtrunk is much better than DSDPlus. I’ve heard no garbled transmissions. Whatever they are doing to auto adjust for PPM and to decode voice frames works much better. I still like Unitrunker and it’s recommended in the Radio Reference forum for system mapping. If I can figure out these issues, sdrtrunk seems like a better option especially since it is multiplatform and more of an all-in-one solution.

I posted a number of projects using RTL-SDRs on my site over the years, including ones for receiving ADS-B, APRS, and P25 trunked radio. There have been minor software changes to Unitrunker in later versions, but it still works.

Coming up on May the 4th be with you, Technical Specialist Jason – N8EI will be giving a presentation on the GAP Titan vertical antenna. The Lancaster and Fairfield County Amateur Radio Club – K8QIK will be hosting the meeting at the Fairfield County EMA building. Jason will be there virtually but stop by if you’re in the area. Jason has many excellent presentations including ones already presented for the Ohio Section.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK