Blue Ridge Parkway DXpedition prep

I think I’m going to limit the Blue Ridge Parkway trip to just one RV destination. The main limitations being time, fuel costs, and RV camp costs… it just makes sense to limit this first trip to a location that is not too far away and attempt to keep the costs down.

The destination will be the town of Crozet, Virginia near the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Looks like there is a lot to do in the area.

Here’s a listing of Charlottesville area local repeaters:
– 146.76 (151.4 Hz), Located on Carter’s Mountain south of Charlottesville.
– 146.925 (151.4 Hz), Located on Martha Jefferson Hospital in Eastern Charlottesville.
– 444.250 (151.4 Hz)
– 442.075 (151.4 Hz)
– 224.76 (no tone)
– 145.03 Digipeater
– 144.39 Two APRS Digipeaters

Nearby Waynesboro:
– 147.075 (

Maybe in Crozet?:
– 146.895

Here’s a link to repeaters that support the Appalachian Trail, part of which runs through the Blue Ridge Parkway:

A few updates from the shack….

Scouts: received my Radio Merit Badge pamphlet in the mail today. Between the pamphlet and web resources, I want to put together a course package for the merit badge. One of the gentlemen I work with has a son who is interested in pursuing the Radio Merit Badge… so I need to get crackin’.

Army MARS: put in an application for Army MARS. The VA state rep told me it will be a couple weeks before I get my MARS callsign and initial training information.

US Army Amateur Radio Society: picked up a few more members. need to make contact with the Iraqi folks to check on the status of the pending YI9 applications.

DX: made contact with one of the newest DXCC entity… Montenegro! The YU6AO Montenegro DXpedition team now has a Web page at and a log search at … I’m in the log!

eBay: purchased an ASTATIC D-104 microphone. Should be a fun project adapting it for use with my IC-706MKIIG.

Local ham swap: made a deal to purchase a SB-220 Heathkit HF Linear Amplifier! This should give me a little more motivation to improve my antenna situation. Also need to acquire an antenna tuner.

Lighthouse QSL cards: finished my QSL cards for the Bodie Island Lighthouse (USA-062) and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse (USA-212) activations. Some of the Currituck Beach contacts are getting a North Carolina lighthouse key chain/compass/thermometer. Tried to get those to fellow ARLHS members.

W4M Special Event Station QSL cards/certificates: everyone who had sent me a SASE has been sent a QSL card (and certificate if they provided a large envelope).

SkyWarn Net: checked into the Chesapeake Amateur Radio Service (CARS) SkyWarn Net. They had made recent improvements to their repeater and have greatly expanded the coverage.

QST Articles: SB-220 Heathkit HF Linear Amplifier

1970 August QST p. 45 Heath SB-220 Linear Amplifier (Recent Equipment)

1974 December QST p. 47 SB-220 on 6 Meters (H&K)

1978 November QST p. 40 Heath SB-220 Modifications

1979 February QST p. 20 Upgrading Your Heath SB-220 Linear Amplifier (Feedback: Apr. p. 27; Jul. p. 50; Nov. p. 56)

1980 January QST p. 25 All Solid-State QSK for the Heath SB-220 (Feedback, Feb. p. 44)

1988 January QST p. 45 Using the SB-220 Amplifier with Solid State Transceivers (H&K)

1988 September QST p. 45 No Holes Standby Switch Modification for the Heath SB-220/SB-221 Amplifier (H&K)

1989 February QST p. 42 Improving the Heathkit SB-220 Amplifier

1989 November QST p. 25 Circuit Improvements for the Heath SB-220 Amplifier–Part 1

1989 December QST p. 41 Circuit Improvements for the Heath SB-220 Amplifier–Part 2

Work AO-51 with your FT-817

Clint Bradford

Work AO-51 with your FT-817…or just about any dual-band HT!

Summary: Program a channel with split freqs, per your owners manual.

The Details: The two primary modes of operations for AO-51 are FM analog voice and 9600-baud packet. AO-51’s transmitters have variable power output, and can operate as high as 8 Watts output on 70cm. Hams are successfully working the satellite with HTs!

In AO-51’s V/U mode, the UPLINK (to AO-51) freq for voice is 145.920MHz with a 67.0Hz CTCSS tone. The DOWNLINK (from AO-51) freq is 435.300MHz (no tone).

First, you need to know WHEN and WHERE the satellite will be passing over your location. There are several computer programs that will tell you. In the home office, I use Nova for Windows[1]. Outside, though, I use PocketSat[2] on my Garmin iQue 3600 PDA and Verizon Wireless Treo 650. Both programs are easily updated with current satellite tracking data that is available on the Internet. Or, you can go to… -or-

…and sign up. Using your longitude and latitude coordinates, you can access amateur satellite pass information (and a lot more!).

The one “absolute” for success is to open up your squelch. Working satellites starts off as a process of finding weak signals, so don’t expect the satellite to be anywhere as strong enough to break squelch like your local repeater. It’s noisy, but that’s part of the process. Noise can also be an aid in locating the satellite because when the frequency starts to exhibit QUIETING, that’s a sure sign that you are hearing the satellite!

Use a good antenna for your handheld. A good gain whip antenna like Pryme’s AL-800[3] (not for SMA connectors, though!) will make the difference. Using an Arrow dual-band[4] is better, and if you prefer to homebrew your antenna, Alex Diaz XE1MEX[5] has an excellent Yagi-Uda.

Set up your radio so you can to tune for the doppler effect. Start listening 5 KHz above the center frequency[6] – you will hear the satellite sooner and clearer. When you hear the downlink signals get scratchy or fuzzy, tune down 1KHz at a time, and reception should be clearer. Follow the signal down in frequency as the pass continues.

Don’t hold your whip antenna upright. Vertical antennas are not as efficient, and a HT held upright isn’t either. The satellite isn’t on the ground (which is what HTs and vertical antennas were designed for). TILT IT about the same amount as the satellite’s ELEVATION. This means that if you are FACING the satellite, tilt it down towards the ground from HORIZONTAL an equal amount. If the satellite is to your back, tilt it up an equal amount away from the satellites position off the vertical. You will be surprised at the difference.

Many use headphones – especially if working full duplex. If you have an Icom IC-W32A, you can listen to your own downlink (helpful, but not necessary). Your brain can be better at discriminating signals than most expensive DSPs.

Knowing your gridsquare – and having a gridsquare map – is a quick way of identifying locations of what you will be hearing. The ARRL and Icom have some dandy gridsquare maps, the latter of which are free at better amateur radio stores[7].

Remember the “three Ps” for working amateur satellites: preparation, planning, and patience. Not every pass is workable with an HT or listenable with a scanner – so don’t go after the 10 degree passes. Pick your passes, and work the ones you know will give you the best chance.

When you hear others, try to find a break in the action, and announce your callsign, grid square, and op mode, like this:


Many hams record their sessions for later review. Even if you don’t make contacts, it helps to accustom yourself to the callsigns, voices and personalities of the other operators. When I first started out, I found it more valuable to know which contacts I missed rather than the ones I made.

Ask questions! Find an elmer or look up the AMSAT[8] area coordinator for your area. Posting specific questions on the AMSAT bulletin board will also help you find answers.

Clint Bradford, K6LCS
Updated 07/17/06


[1] Nova for Windows is available from Northern Lights Software Associates’ Web site at:

[2] PocketSat is available from Big Fat Tail’s site:

[3] The Pryme AL-800 telescopes to 34″ and collapses to 10″. Is is packaged with a 9″ rat tail – which you can use for everyday use. Use caution with this massive, heavy antenna: It has the potential of placing a lot of stress on your radio’s BNC connector. Pryme claims gain figures of 3.2 dB on VHF and 5.5 dB on UHF. Available at better amateur dealers – including Ham Radio Outlet – HRO.

[4] Arrow’s Model 146/437-10WBP is a dual-band cross-Yagi design, with a duplexer built into the handle. It has three elements on 2M and 7 elements on 440. (You’ve seen pictures in QST and elsewhere of operators using this great antenna!) Also available at HRO – see it on Arrow’s Web site at…

[5] Alex has performed a lot of work on suitable homebrew antennas for satellite enthusiasts. His Web site is:

[6] For example, here’s how I have programmed my FT-817 for AO-51:

Ch # Name TX Freq CTCSS RX Freq CTCSS
101 51 -2 145.920 67.0 435.310 None
102 51 -1 145.920 67.0 435.305 None
103 51 MID 145.920 67.0 435.300 None
104 51 +1 145.920 67.0 435.295 None
105 51 +2 145.920 67.0 435.290 None

[7] Icom’s map is available at the Anaheim HRO, and also available as a .pdf file on their Web site at:

[8] AMSAT deserves your support! Membership isn’t that expensive, and members are entitled to discounts on AMSAT publications and satellite tracking software!

Clint Bradford, K6LCS

Radio Merit Badge Counselor

Just got my official merit badge counselor card – I’m now an approved Boy Scouts of America merit badge counselor for the Radio Merit Badge!

Here’s an article from ARRL on teaching the Radio Merit Badge:

Larry Wolfgang, WR1B

Congratulations on being asked to teach the Radio Merit Badge for your local Troop. It can be a tall order, but also a lot of fun! First, be sure you have the latest requirements version. Either the latest Radio Merit Badge Pamphlet or a copy of the 1998 Requirements book will do. The MB Pamphlet has a lot of supporting information. (I assume you are a Scouter, and familiar with the BSA Merit Badge program.

I’ve been to two National Jamborees, where I served on the Radio Merit Badge staff, and at those two Jamborees, we’ve had over 500 total Scouts complete Radio Merit Badge. Can it be done? YES! Still, there are some tough spots. We use a hard-working team at the Jamborees, with each person covering a specific area of expertise. (And, of course, we work in shifts, so everyone has time to catch their breath and find a day to see what else is going on at the Jamboree!)

We typically divide the requirements into a couple of sections. “Theory” covers topics like how a radio works, propagation, the radio spectrum and so on. “Practical” covers components, test equipment, station grounding, etc. While the requirement to build something has been dropped, we still used a construction station as a final reward for completing all the requirements at the 97 Jamboree. The Scouts like to handle components, stuff a circuit board and learn to solder. That year we used a simple “blinky light” project, with a 555 timer and a coupled of LEDs, just for fun.

For the Broadcast Radio option, we try to coordinate with the “KBSA” broadcast station at the Jamboree. Some Scouts get to plan programs and go on the air. There is high demand for those on-the-air spots, though, so we try to steer them away from that. It is an option, however, and if a Scout really wants to learn about broadcast radio, they should be allowed to pursue that area. You may not want to cover that area, though, and may have to help them make contact with someone who can. (I would not feel qualified to teach that aspect of the Merit Badge.) At the Jamboree, we set up a Short-Wave listening area in our Merit Badge Midway tent. We supervise that area and provide evening listening hours. It is a popular option. For the ham radio option, we have directed them to the big K2BSA set up. In 97 the K2BSA demonstration staff was a great help in setting up “class times” for the merit badge, and taking the Scouts through those requirements. (As a side note, all the Radio Merit Badge Staff are part of the K2BSA staff, but we are dedicated to the Merit Badge Midway area. The rest of the K2BSA staff divides into shifts to keep the station going virtually around the clock. In 97, off duty operators put in the extra time to teach that part of the merit badge. Why do we have 40-some staff positions for Amateur Radio? We are busy, believe me!

Now some specifics. We prepare “flip charts” before the Jamboree. Each page of the flip chart outlines a topic to be covered, with drawings and short text explanations for the instructor to expand upon. This keeps people on track and focused on the material. There isn’t a lot of time to waste. You may actually have more time with the Scouts, but I still recommend something similar to help you stay focused. With the chart already done, you don’t have to take time writing and drawing on a board. (As a former teacher, I love to work on a blackboard or something similar, but the chart really works well.) While each staff member will vary the presentation a bit to suit their style, this also ensures that each of us covers the core material.

We usually have some components or materials to pass around to let the Scouts get their hands on something, and to examine it closely. This helps hold their attention.

After the “class presentation” we have the Scouts complete the written work and make drawings, then talk individually with a staff member to “explain,” “describe” or whatever else the requirement says. In other words, “sitting through my class doesn’t complete the requirements.” “The requirements tell you what you actually have to DO.”

I have also taught Radio Merit Badge at our local council’s “Merit-Badge-O-Ree.” This is a weekend campout with all day Saturday dedicated to various Merit Badges. It is sponsored by our local electric utility, and they allow us to use their training classroom facilities. Last fall another ham and I taught a morning and an afternoon course. It was really rushed, but about 20 or so Scouts completed the badge and some others earned partials. At that session, I taught the theory and practical parts, and the other ham (not a Scouter) taught the ham radio option. We did not cover either of the other two options. In that case, I prepared notes on overlays for an overhead projector. As I said earlier, being a teacher, I used the chalkboard for some explanations, but the overhead really made it go faster. Also for that, I developed a test with a variety of question types, such as fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, matching and short answer to test them on the material. By grading the tests, I could put a pass/fail criteria on their efforts to determine who earned the badge. I hope to develop that idea better for future use, and perhaps to streamline the process for the next National Jamboree.

I would recommend keeping the Merit Badge separate from a license class, unless you find out beforehand that all the Scouts who want Radio Merit Badge also want to earn a license. Use the Merit Badge to spark their interest and get them into a class. If it’s your local Troop, you may be able to set up a course over a longer time frame, and that would probably be more successful. Yes, we’ve also taught license classes and done testing at the Jamboree. At the last Jamboree we had classes during the day and in the evening, according to a schedule published at the start of the Jamboree. Students (yes there are quite a few adults take these classes) can attend any one of about three sessions that covered a specific section of material. That way if they couldn’t attend a particular class, it was easy to make it up. Again, we used a team. They had materials prepared ahead of time–for an overhead projector in this case–and used a variety of props.

My inclination is to use the ARRL Technician Video course for such a concentrated effort. The video is roughly 6 hours long, but you will need at least the same amount of additional time for discussion and to answer questions. Still, the “weekend cram course” is a reality with the video.

WOW! Is that enough? You had no idea what you were asking, did you? I hope I didn’t overload you with all this info. Really, it is intended to give you some ideas of what I have done when I’ve been involved with something similar, although on a rather larger scale, no doubt. I hope it is of some help. Good luck with the Scouts. And don’t forget to have FUN! I hope you will also be able to include a station, and do some demonstrations of various modes and on-the-air activities. Let me know how it works out.

Larry Wolfgang, WR1B
Senior Assistant Technical Editor

KB6NU continues to provide one of the best ham radio blogs around ( Original content, interesting news items, nice focus on CW, just a great read.

One of his recent posts was on the USS Cod and its invovment in special events.

W4M Feedback

I got the following email:

From : KC2HZW
Sent : Monday, July 24, 2006 8:20 PM
Subject : RE: W4M QSL

Hi Scott!

I recieved your QSL card and Special Event Certificate today. WOW! I Have to say this is one of the most beautiful cards and certificates I have ever seen. It’s really obvious that you put quite a bit of time and thought into their creation. While I don’t “chase” special event stations, I do work a hand full each year; this one will definitely go into my book to show my ham friends and visitors to my station! Nice job!

73 de Richard, KC2HZW

It’s nice getting the positive feedback. Makes all the effort I put into the event worthwhile!

QSL Bureau

Today I received my first envelope of QSL cards from the QSL Bureau. I sent off money back in January (I think) and was wondering if I’d receive anything. The large envelope contained cards from France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Ukraine, and French Guiana. Unfortunately, none of these were new countries for me, but it was still very cool getting the cards. I need to send more money to the Bureau with my new callsign.

RV DXpedition… on the calendar

I called Fort Eustis MWR and reserved a 29′ RV for Labor Day weekend. Yahoo! Now I have to figure out where I’m going to go. It’s looking like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah Valley. Doing the research now.

I’m trying to see if there are any contests or special events that weekend. This is going to be a good workout of the Amateur Radio Station In a Box (ARSIB). Maybe I can work on my CW between now and the trip and try to work a lot of CW.