The Amateur Amateur: 2021, Moments Great and Small
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
When I initially looked back over 2021 to see what Amateur Radio
accomplishments I had achieved, it seemed like I'd done hardly
anything at all. Oh, I spent a lot
of time working on St. Louis Metro ARES matters, but it was
practically all administrative. In particular, dealing with website and
database issues consumed many hours, and killed
Oh, I'm not complaining. I volunteered to handle that
sort of stuff. And I do get
some enjoyment out of it. But at the end of the day I come away
feeling more like a computer programmer than an Amateur Radio
On closer inspection, though, it seems that I did
accomplish some radio-related things. Some were great, some were
some ways, the smallest was the most gratifying. I'm almost never on
the air except for ARES-related events. But on Christmas day I drove
roughly halfway across Missouri to celebrate the day with my in-laws.
It's during these long-distance treks that I am most likely to hoist
the VHF/UHF antenna on my Toyota RAV4 SUV. The antenna usually stays
down so that the vehicle will fit into my garage, and I usually don't
bother raising it for short trips.
my trip home Christmas afternoon, I heard someone on the VHF calling
frequency (146.520 MHz). I answered, and was soon having a pleasant
chat with Chris, KF0GUS. It was short lived, however, as Chris was
heading west on Intestate 70 and I was heading east, and we had
already passed each other. Moreover, Missouri gets pretty flat the
further west you go on I-70, but we were in the eastern half, where
lumps and bumps abound. Our conversation only lasted a few minutes,
but such contacts always leave me with good feelings
that can last for hours. (Yeah, I should do it more often.) By the
way, Chris later joined one of our St. Louis Metro ARES nets via
Elements of a portable Winlink station
soundcard interface and transceiver
this is a good place to segue into that
County, Missouri is way, way far from St. Louis County, Missouri,
where I live. But I'd noted Benton County ARES's frequent Facebook
posts and was curious about the team down there. I discovered that
they had a weekly net and that it could be reached via Echolink.
I learned how to use Echolink. And I try to check in to the Benton
County ARES net whenever I can.
will confess at this point that I don't do so via radio. I could
use a local repeater to do so, but I'd rather not tie up any local
Amateur Radio resources other than my own. I connect to the repeater
County ARES uses by means of my computer. (I feel only mildly guilty
Moving on from small and medium successes, I will now jump into what I
consider my personal great success of the year.
I've written about WinLink
before, primarily about getting Remote Mail Servers up and running
Part I and Win-Blink,
Part II). A quick explanation: If you install WinLink software on
your computer, then connect your computer to your transceiver (via a
TNC or soundcard interface), you can send and receive email (and a
lot more) over the Amateur Radio frequencies.
key is that you have to be able to reach a WinLink Remote Mail Server
(or a relay to one). The Remote Mail Server (RMS) is what listens to
your WinLink transmission, grabs it, and injects
it into the Internet. The RMS also performs the reverse function,
taking any email waiting for you on the WinLink servers, and passing
it on to you once you connect.
up a simple WinLink client can be a bit of a challenge.
up a RMS can be a nightmare. (See the links to the two earlier
columns that I wrote.)
any case, I had set up my own RMS (KB0H-10) and helped my friend
Steve set up his own (KC0QMU-10). Neither received much traffic,
though, as both Steve and I live in locations surrounded by lots of
And then came VARA.
Mounting HF antenna coupler
data had usually been sent and received by some form of packet radio.
VARA is a completely new method, the
of which are way
over my head. But the thing that has made VARA so popular in the
WinLink community is that it works so much better
I had to give it a try. I did, back in 2020 (see A
VARA Difficult Problem) and had no success.
But in 2021 I succeeded! (See The
Sweet Screech of Success) I get a wonderfully gratifying feeling
after finally solving long term problems.
Now, I just need to help Steve get his VARA RMS going.
Now that I think about it, I suppose I actually had another great success
in 2020. I got my HF antenna back up and running.
I won't go over my long
history of struggling with the HF bands, my occasional successes, and
my perpetual search to find an optimal HF antenna for my location.
I've written numerous columns on the subject. But in 2021, with a lot
of help from my friend Bob (no call sign, he's not a ham), I did get
a working HF antenna up and functioning (see Up,
Up, and On the Air!). I won't say that it's optimal. There is a
lot that I cannot do with it. But compared to what I had before, it
is a huge improvement.
So, going back to my original assessment of my 2021 Amateur Radio
activities, I would have to say that I was wrong. I did
do a lot of radio-related things.
And now, I need to get back
to the ARES administrative-website-database stuff. (It never ends.)