The Amateur Amateur: Hamityville Horror

By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Contributing Editor
September 29, 2005

The den suddenly turned into a scene right out of the movie Poltergeist. One of the lamps started flickering. Just more adventures as The Amateur Amateur delves more deeply into SSTV.

Gary's SSTV image

This is what I pieced together for my first SSTV attempt.

SSTV reply image

An instant reply from Cuba!

In the my last few columns I related how curiosity about PSK31 had led me into the field of digital modes and in particular Slow Scan Television (SSTV). Klaus Kramer, DL4KCK, pointed out that SSTV is usually analog, so it would be more proper to say that I was exploring data modes rather than the digital modes. In any case, I decided to play around with SSTV some more.

It was one thing to sit back and admire the pretty pictures scrolling across my computer screen and quite another to actually send them. For unlike voice modes, or even many data modes, I could not simply jump in and start talking (or typing). I needed a picture to send. And, don't forget, I also needed to send my call sign.

The MMSSTV freeware program I was using had some tools to help build and prepare images for transmission. I dug up an image of me sitting at my station and fed it into the program. It accepted the simple JPEG image and cropped it to the correct size. I inserted some text and my call sign, and my picture was ready for transmission.

In the meantime my wife Nancy had gone to our den and settled into the La-Z-Boy with a mystery novel. As long as I don't have the volume cranked up too loud she doesn't mind the strange noises emanating from the basement.

Back downstairs I was still contemplating sending my first SSTV transmission. There was activity on the 20 meter band, and images kept appearing on my display. I didn't see much in the way of dedicated conversations. Mostly I saw individual operators sending pictures with CQ in them. Sometimes there would be a reply with the call signs of both the sender and intended receiver superimposed on the image. That evening the people sending images just seemed to want to make a lot of contacts. I felt that the environment was perfect for sending my own first image.

Still curled up with her book, Nancy was trying to ignore the weird sounds wafting up from the basement. She'd heard a lot of noise before, mostly static and distorted voices, but tonight the sounds were downright eerie. It was more like the sound track to Star Wars than the ham radio racket she was used to hearing.

I had MMSSTV all prepared. My image was loaded and ready to go. I waited for a relatively quiet moment and then hit the TRANSMIT button. The program indicated that it was sending the image and my transceiver started transmitting. And transmitting. And transmitting. One thing I had forgotten is that it takes a while to send out a complete picture. My hands were getting sweaty as I worried about how long my transmission was. I was relieved when my transceiver finally clicked back into receive mode.

The den suddenly turned into a scene right out of the movie Poltergeist. A three-way bulb in one of the lamps started flickering, then switched from bright to dim, dim to medium, medium to off, and so forth in a random sequence. The printer connected to the computer in the den started going through odd cycles, even though the computer itself was turned off. Nancy kept looking from the printer to the lamp and back again, wondering what in the world was happening.

Back down in the shack I was blissfully unaware of the mayhem in the den. I waited to see if anyone responded to my transmission. Hardly a few seconds lapsed before an incoming image started to assemble on my screen. I gasped. It was a reply to my transmission, and it was from Cuba! My very first attempt at SSTV had netted a DX contact!

Upstairs in the den Nancy's world had become sane again. The lamp had stabilized on one setting and the printer had returned to a dormant state. The only thing that had changed was that the weird noises in the basement had resumed. It had been quiet during the lunacy with the electrical devices. Hmmm.

Touch lamp

Just touch this lamp to turn it on. Or have your spouse transmit a SSTV signal.

Not realizing that a storm was brewing upstairs I ogled at the image I'd received from Cuba. I wanted to reply at once. I turned to the keyboard and . . . had no idea what to do. I only had one picture. Moreover it had taken me half and hour to set up that single image. There was no way I could build a reply image and send it promptly. Well, obviously there was a way since the fellow in Cuba had put together a picture with both of our call signs on it within just a few seconds. But he was clearly adept at building quick replies, and I was not. I sighed and turned to my log book. At least I could note the contact. Then I'd go upstairs and tell Nancy about my good fortune.

I entered the den, grinning from ear to ear. Just wait until Nancy heard about my SSTV contact with Cuba!

"What in blazes were you doing down there!?" she snapped.

Being a fan of Pinky and the Brain I was tempted to reply, "The same thing I do every night, Pinky," but the look on her face caused my childish exuberance to evaporate. I just gaped at her as she described the antics of the seemingly haunted electrical devices.

Okay, here's the story. My HF antenna system is a suburban compromise. This mean it's far from perfect. It sits too close to the roof, and the current node is too close to the den. I already knew that it was a bit of a problem, but it wasn't until I transmitted a lengthy image that the extent of the problem became apparent.

So my ecstasy over my near-successful SSTV contact was tempered by the realization that my antenna system needed yet another overhaul. Pouring more radio energy into the den and whoever happened to be in it just was not acceptable. It was time to get serious and start contemplating a new solution to my HF antenna dilemma.

By the way, did I mention that I received a SSTV signal from Cuba?

Editor's note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant, Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's name -- "The Amateur Amateur" -- suggests the explorations of a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers are invited to contact the author via e-mail, [email protected].

© 2005 American Radio Relay League

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