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ARRL Letter

The ARRL Letter
February 18, 2021
John E. Ross, KD8IDJ, Editor
ARRL Home PageARRL Letter ArchiveAudio News


ARES Volunteers Respond to Severe Weather

Weather gone wild might be an apt description of the conditions in many parts of the US, with sub-freezing temperatures, snow, and ice in areas not prepared for those sorts of thing. Aberrant weather is happening across many US regions, causing power and telecommunication outages. The National Weather Service (NWS) advised at mid-week, "Over 100 million Americans are under Winter Storm Warnings, Winter Storm Watches, or Winter Weather Advisories as another round of impactful winter weather tracks from the Southern Plains to the East Coast," adding that a developing winter storm is expected to produce heavy snow and treacherous ice accumulations from the South Central US to the Mid-Atlantic.

ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers in southern Texas have been called up by served agencies to help fill the resulting communication gap. ARRL Emergency Response Director Paul Gilbert, KE5ZW, who lives in the Austin, Texas, area, reports that ARES members "have been very, very, very busy" with storm-related traffic. "The Williamson County ARES team has been activated by the Williamson County Emergency Manager," he reported earlier in the week.

A net to address power outages, vehicle accidents, health and welfare, power outages, and weather updates was running around the clock. Two repeaters in Gilbert's area are down due to power and generator outages, he said. Electrical power in his area has been up and down, but his cell service has mostly been working.

Gilbert reported 4 - 8 inches of snow on the ground and "lots of ice," with temperatures dipping into record-setting single digits. "The roads are very treacherous, and emergency services have not been able to respond to all calls as a result," he said.

Volunteers with Williamson County ARES (Wilco ARES) were able to help one ham who had no heat, a car out of gas, and 18° F in the house to find shelter for him and his dog.

The ARES net is tracking the rolling blackouts as the local provider grid becomes overwhelmed by increased demand. "Some water shortages were reported, as pumping stations failed from lack of power," he said.

Elsewhere, North Texas SEC Greg Evans, K5GTX, reported that the Grayson County ARES team has activated to staff warming shelters, and the emergency operations center (EOC) in Hill County was activated on February 15.

New Mexico Section Emergency Coordinator Jay Miller, W5WHN, reports that southeastern New Mexico is experiencing rolling power blackouts due to high demand. "The stations checking in via HF and repeaters are having frozen water pipe problems," Miller said. "Most of the New Mexico ARES stations have backup power."

Miller said the rest of New Mexico is digging out of three storms' worth of snow accompanied by frigid temperatures and impassable roads, especially in the mountains.

Jim Tucker, KB0QNW, reported from southeast New Mexico, "We continue to experience rolling blackouts. I continue to monitor local and regional repeaters and systems, as well as the 7290 Traffic Net, should any need arise. I [passed] a message from Bowie, Texas, to Clovis, New Mexico." Read an expanded version.

ARRL Board Considers Plan to Cover New $35 FCC Fee for Some Young Applicants

At its Annual Meeting in January, the ARRL Board of Directors considered a motion to offer a new service that would pay the new but not-yet-implemented $35 FCC application fee for a limited number of new radio amateurs younger than age 18 who, at the time of testing, belonged to an ARRL-affiliated 501(c)(3) charitable organization and passed their tests through an ARRL VEC-sponsored exam session. The proposal called for reducing the VEC fee for these candidates to $5. The initial proposal came from ARRL Southeastern Division Director Mickey Baker, N4MB. Other Board members offered subsidiary motions. Supporters said the purpose behind the motion was to ameliorate the potential financial hardship the pending FCC application fee posed on certain minors applying for their first license, and to encourage new youth membership.

Consideration of the motion, which was subject to considerable discussion, was deferred to an ad hoc committee composed of the members of the Administration & Finance Committee, two Members of the Programs & Services Committee, and ARRL CEO David Minster, NA2AA (or his designated representative). The Board directed the panel to review and more fully develop the proposal and report back to the Board by the end of March with a recommendation as to whether such a program should be adopted and, if adopted, how it should be implemented.

Supporters expressed the belief that recruitment and training of young radio amateurs "is a necessary and proper mission of the ARRL" and that subsidizing the $35 fee "will reduce the number of new amateurs that otherwise would be lost from these groups."

In December, the FCC agreed with ARRL and other commenters that the initially proposed $50 fee for certain amateur radio applications was "too high to account for the minimal staff involvement in these applications." In a Report and Order (R&O), the FCC scaled the fee back to $35 for a new license application, a special temporary authority (STA) request, a rule waiver request, a license renewal application, and a vanity call sign application. All fees are per application. There will be no fee for administrative updates, such as a change of mailing or email address. Read an expanded version.

Innovator Ulrich Rohde, N1UL, Donates Sophisticated Vector Signal Generator to ARRL

ARRL Life Member Ulrich Rohde, N1UL, has donated a Rohde & Schwarz SMBV100A vector signal generator to the ARRL Laboratory. The device offers internal signal generation for all major digital radio standards. "That is absolutely fabulous news and extremely generous," ARRL CEO David Minster, NA2AA, told Rohde.

ARRL Laboratory Manager Ed Hare, W1RFI, said the instrument will be a valuable addition to the Lab's testing capabilities.

"We will be able to do more comprehensive tests on modern radios, almost all of which use software-define radio technology," Hare said. "We will also be able to add testing of receivers' digital capability. The flexibility of this generator will serve the Laboratory for years to come."

Hare said he was looking forward to learning more about the SMBV100A once it's installed at the Lab. "The potential is really exciting," he said. "As always, we appreciate the support that Ulrich Rohde has given to the Lab over the past several decades."

Rohde said vector signal generators are the logical successors to the older AM/FM modulation-capable signal generators and have practically unlimited capability. "For some of the tests required to characterize a software-defined radio (SDR), we need different test equipment," he said. Rohde noted that the SMBV100A has a built-in arbitrary waveform generator capable of operating up to 6 GHz, with "many complex signals in it library, and also has the familiar AM/FM simple mode"

Ulrich Rohde, N1UL.

Going from analog to digital SDRs, large-signal behavior is best determined with special multi-carrier signals, Rohde said. Instead of a two-tone test signal for, say, measuring IF characteristics, the SMBV100A can generate up to 30 discrete tones. Rohde said the SMBV100A can produce any signal "as long as you can describe it mathematically," even an FT8 signal. The bottom line is a more realistic test result.

Rohde said that in 1982, while he headed the Department of Defense Radio Division at RCA, he and his engineering group "invented what is now called the software-defined radio," which was considered classified military information at the time.

ARRL Podcasts Schedule

The latest episode of the On the Air podcast (Episode 14) takes a deeper dive into the subject of HF antenna tuners, including some shopping tips.

The latest edition of Eclectic Tech (Episode 27) features a discussion of virtual audio cables, plus a chat with Clint Turner, KA7OEI, about extremely slow CW, otherwise known as QRSS.

The On the Air and Eclectic Tech podcasts are sponsored by Icom. Both podcasts are available on iTunes (iOS) and Stitcher (Android), as well as on Blubrry -- On the Air | Eclectic Tech.

South Coast ARES Joins South Coast CERT in California Evacuation Operation

In California, the SC4ARES group, part of the SC4 Amateur Radio Club of La Honda, Loma Mar, Pescadero, San Gregorio, and South Skyline in the ARRL Santa Clara Valley Section (south of San Francisco in northern California), joined with South Coast CERT members in late January. The groups performed a joint exercise to notify residents in the CZU Lightning Complex fire areas of mandatory evacuations in front of a moderate atmospheric river event that had the potential to cause debris flows in those burn-scarred areas.

Atmospheric rivers are columns of vapor that move with the weather, carrying an amount of water vapor roughly equivalent to the average flow of water at the mouth of the Mississippi River. When atmospheric rivers make landfall, they often release this water vapor in the form of rain or snow.

Fire Chief Ari Delay of La Honda Volunteer Fire Brigade -- a SC4ARES served agency -- called together ARES and CERT leaders on January 24 to evaluate the areas to be evacuated and assess who hadn't already left the area. Angelo Dragone, N6QAD; Bob Smith, W6RES, and Peter Chupity, KI6FAO, used Radio Mobile to assess likely relay spots in the mountainous terrain of the areas of Whitehouse Creek, Gazos Creek, Butano Creek, Dearborn Park, and Loma Mar. They tested these areas using UHF as a stand-in for the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios that CERT members would be using for the actual exercise.

On January 26, the CERT and SC4ARES members met at Pescadero High School to deploy teams to warn evacuees and leave literature describing the nature of the incoming weather. The CERT members communicated with the ARES team, and the ARES team kept in contact with the temporary operations center at the high school. In Whitehouse Creek canyon, all CERT members were also hams, so no GMRS radios were needed. CERT/ARES participants communicated with KI6FAO, perched on a hilltop to relay to the operations center.

The operation was a success, and the hourly rainfall rate didn't reach the threshold to trigger debris flows in any of the areas. -- Thanks to Lisa Short Chupity, W6LSC, PIO, SC4ARC/ARES; ARRL Santa Clara Valley Section News

ARRL Learning Network Webinars

Visit the ARRL Learning Network (a members-only benefit) to register, check on upcoming webinars, and to view previously recorded sessions.

Talking to Astronauts: An Elementary School's Exciting ARISS Experience -- Diane Warner, KE8HLD

This is a story about Tallmadge Elementary School's participation in a once-in-a-lifetime ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) school contact. Learn about their amazing journey leading up to the amateur radio contact with an astronaut on the International Space Station. The excitement of the entire experience was shared not just by the students, but included faculty, parents, the community, and local amateur radio operators. You will also learn how to begin the process of submitting your own ARISS contact proposal.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021 @ 1 PM EST (1800 UTC)

Technicians: Life Beyond Repeaters -- Anthony Luscre, K8ZT

Maybe you just received your Technician-class license, or perhaps you have had it for a while and burned out on sparse FM repeater contacts. Take a new look at the possibilities available to you beyond repeaters. Explore Tech HF and 6-meter privileges for SSB, CW, and digital modes such as FT8, RTTY, and PSK31 to expand your operating modes and your station's outreach. Explore other VHF/UHF uses, including SSB, satellites, FM simplex, digital modes, contesting, and more.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021 @ 1 PM EST (1800 UTC)

The Art and Science of Operating Ultra-Portable -- Mike Molina, KN6EZE

Ultra-portable operation, or being able to carry your radio over distances (e.g., in a backpack), is quickly growing in popularity. Whether it's for SOTA, POTA, backcountry survival, or just spending time in nature, learning how to operate ultra-portable is a fun and rewarding experience. In this presentation, Mike, KN6EZE, will cover the basics of ultra-portable operating for both the new and experienced ham operator.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021 @ 8 PM EST (0100 UTC on Friday, April 7)

The ARRL Learning Network schedule is subject to change.

  • Antarctic Activity Week (AAW), February 20 - 28, aims to promote interest in Antarctica. Listen for OE18AAW, OE88WAP, OE89ANT, OE90AAW, LZ18ANT, TM18AAW, IB2ANT, II2ANT, II3BOVE, II5ANT, II8WAP, IR1ANT, PA6ANT, PF88ANT, EH8ANT, EM25VER, K0ANT, K4A, and K4C, among others.

  • S55ZMS is the call sign of the new 8-meter beacon from Slovenia. It transmits both CW and PI4 -- a digital mode designed for beacons -- on 40.670 MHz, running 7 W into a dipole.

  • "Mini-Visalia" organizers Jim Neiger, N6TJ, and Dick Norton, N6AA, have announced that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event, set for March 19 - 21 in Visalia, has been postponed. .

  • Special call sign prefixes -- SX200, SY200, and SZ200 -- will be on the air through 2021 to celebrate the bicentennial of the 1821 Greek Revolution. -- Thanks to RAAG

  • The European Radio Amateurs' Organization (EURAO) has announced a QSO party for February 20 - 21, 0000 - 2400 UTC, using the theme "with a simple dipole" on all HF modes and bands. Call "CQ EURAO Party."

  • Plans for a DXpedition to Sable Island (CY0) have been reset, with a target of October 2021. Sponsors say they are "cautiously optimistic."

British Columbia Radio Amateur Copies Signal from Mars-Orbiting Satellite

As reported on, Canadian radio amateur Scott Tilley, VE7TIL, of Roberts Creek, British Columbia, has snagged another signal from deep space. His latest conquest has been to copy the signal from China's Tianwen-1 (pronounced "tee-EN-ven") probe, which went into orbit around Mars on February 10. Tilley told that the probe's X-band signal was "loud and audible."

"It was a treasure hunt," Tilley told He explained that while the spacecraft did post its frequency with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), it was too vague for precise tuning (X band is between 8 GHz and 12 GHz).

Launched last July, Tianwen-1 represents China's first Mars mission. It consists of an orbiter and a rover, which will land on the Martian surface in May or June 2021. It is able to photograph the planet's surface while in orbit.

Finding signals from deep space is a sub-hobby for Tilley, who seeks what he calls "zombie satellites" among other signal sources. In 2020, he tracked and identified signals from the experimental UHF military communication satellite LES-5.

In 2018, while hunting for an undisclosed US government spacecraft lost in a launch mishap, he spotted the signature of IMAGE (Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration), a NASA spacecraft believed to have died in December 2005.

Tilley has also picked up signals from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the United Arab Emirates Hope probe, both orbiting Mars some 124 million miles away.

He uses a homemade 60-centimeter dish and relies on software-defined radios (SDRs) to accomplish the task.

Radio amateurs have been listening for signals from space since the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, which transmitted at around 20 MHz. Read an expanded version.

Amateur Radio in the News

ARRL Public Information Officers, Coordinators, and many other member-volunteers help keep amateur radio and ARRL in the news.

Share any amateur radio media hits you spot with us.

Fatten Your DXCC Total in the ARRL International DX Contest (CW) This Weekend

It's the US and Canada against the world in the 2021 ARRL International DX Contest (CW), which takes place this weekend, February 20 - 21. Join thousands of amateurs worldwide as they compete in this exciting international event.

Whether you're a casual operator just looking for DX contacts, an awards chaser, or working on your DXCC, this contest offers something for everyone.

US and Canadian operators work as many DX stations in as many DXCC entities as possible on 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. DX stations work as many US and Canadian stations in as many of the 48 contiguous states and provinces as possible. This means the DX will be looking for you!

For 2021, ARRL has issued temporary accommodations for multioperator stations in the contest, allowing them to adhere to local social distancing guidelines. This will open the door for many DX operators to participate in the contest while keeping their team members safe.

Visit the ARRL Contests web page for rules and complete details.

Former ARRL Southwestern Division Director Art Goddard, W6XD, SK

Former ARRL Southwestern Division Director Art Goddard, W6XD, of Costa Mesa, California, died on February 13. An ARRL Life Member, he was 78.

First licensed in 1956, Goddard was an electrical engineering graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Montana State University. He worked for Collins Radio and later for Boeing, from which he retired as an executive.

After several years working with local governments in southern California on proposed antenna ordinances, he was elected ARRL Southwestern Division Vice Director in 1995, serving two terms before being elected Director in 2001. After retiring from the ARRL Board, he continued to follow ARRL affairs and advocate for stronger public relations on behalf of amateur radio.

Goddard was active on the air from HF through microwaves. A member of the Southern California Contest Club, he took part in contest DXpeditions to locations ranging from subarctic to tropical, operating the CQ World Wide DX Contest in 26 of the 40 CQ zones. He also headed teams of VHF/UHF/microwave contest rovers.

Goddard was heavily involved with the Costa Mesa Historical Society and was co-author of two books on Costa Mesa history.

The K7RA Solar Update

Tad Cook, K7RA, Seattle, reports: This stretch of days with zero sunspots has continued for 2 weeks now. Wednesday evening, though, while viewing the STEREO spacecraft image, I saw a very bright spot on the sun's northeast horizon. reported, "A new active region is hiding just behind the sun's northeastern limb. It might be a sunspot."

Average daily solar flux dipped from 72.8 to 72 this week. Average daily planetary A index was unchanged from last week at 7.7.

Cracks reported on Tuesday in Earth's magnetic field allowed solar wind to pour in, sparking aurora around the Arctic Circle. Alaska's College A index jumped to 45, after the K index hit 7 at 0600 and 0900 UTC. This is from a single magnetometer near Fairbanks, Alaska.

Predicted solar flux for the next 30 days is 72 on February 18 - 25; 74, 73, and 74 on February 26 - 28; 73, 74, and 74 on March 1 - 3; 73 on March 4 - 6; 74, 70, and 74 on March 7 - 9; 76, 72, and 71 on March 10 - 12, and 72 on March 13 - 19. Flux values may rise to 76 again on March 23 - 24.

Predicted planetary A index is 5 on February 18 - 19; 16, 12, 8, and 8 on February 20 - 23; 5 on February 24 - 28; 18, 15, and 8 on March 1 - 3; 5 on March 4 - 5; 15 on March 6; 5 on March 7 - 11; 18, 10, 8, and 8 on March 12 - 15, and 5 on March 16 - 19.

Sunspot numbers for February 11 through 17 were 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, and 0, with a mean of 0. The 10.7-centimeter flux was 75.8, 72.1, 71.3, 71.4, 69.6, 71.5, and 72.4, with a mean of 72. Estimated planetary A indices were 4, 5, 13, 4, 5, 15, and 8, with a mean of 7.7. Middle latitude A index was 2, 4, 10, 3, 3, 11, and 6, with a mean of 5.6.

A comprehensive K7RA Solar Update is posted Fridays on the ARRL website. For more information concerning radio propagation, visit the ARRL Technical Information Service, read "What the Numbers Mean...," and check out K9LA's Propagation Page.

A propagation bulletin archive is available. For customizable propagation charts, visit the VOACAP Online for Ham Radio website.

Share your reports and observations.

In Brief...

The latest issue of the free publication ITU News Magazine highlights World Radio Day (observed each year on February 13). The issue features two articles on amateur radio. Articles in the magazine include the evolution of radio throughout the ages, ham radio and emergency communications, and remarks by International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) President Tim Ellam, VE6SH, regarding why World Amateur Radio Day (celebrated each year on April 18) is important to highlight crucial services.

Ham Radio in Friedrichshafen, Germany, is tentatively on for 2021. The show was canceled last year because of the pandemic. Organizers for Europe's International Amateur Radio Exhibition this week expressed optimism that the 45th Ham Radio, sponsored by the Deutscher Amateur Radio Club (DARC), will be able to take place June 25 - 27. "We are watching the situation closely, of course," a message from Friedrichshafen Fairgrounds CEO Klaus Wellmann said. "At the moment, we are assuming that we will be able to hold Ham Radio in accordance with an extensive, tried-and-proven safety and hygiene concept and are looking forward to seeing everyone again at Europe's most important trade fair for amateur radio."

The former president of Argentina, Carlos Menem, ex-LU1SM, died on February 14. He was 90. Menem took office in 1989, serving for 10 years. Menem was active on the air in the 1980s and 1990s. He had earlier served as regional governor. Menem served as a senator from 2005 until 2019. According to the New York Times, "Menem was hospitalized in December with kidney failure and had been put in a medically induced coma."

Getting It Right

The story "ARRL Board Confers Awards on Skip Jackson, KS0J, and Josh Nass, KI6NAZ," in the February 4 edition of The ARRL Letter includes incorrect information. The recipient of the Knight Award receives a plaque. The recipient of the Leonard Award receives a plaque and a $250 contribution to a charity designated by the recipient.

Just Ahead in Radiosport
  • February 20 - 21 -- ARRL International DX Contest (CW)

  • February 20 - 21 --20 -- Russian PSK World Wide Contest

  • February 21 -- FISTS Sunday Sprint (CW)

  • February 21 - 22 -- Run for the Bacon QRP Contest (CW)

  • February 24 -- SKCC Sprint (CW)

  • February 24 -- UKEICC 80-Meter Contest (CW)

  • February 22 - 25 -- RSGB 80-Meter Club Championship (CW)

Upcoming ARRL Section, State, and Division Conventions

Many conventions and hamfests have been canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Check the calendar of canceled events on the ARRL website.

Find conventions and hamfests in your area.

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The ARRL Letter offers a weekly summary of essential news of interest to active amateurs that is available in advance of publication in QST, our official journal. The ARRL Letter strives to be timely, accurate, concise and readable.

Much of the ARRL Letter content is also available in audio form in ARRL Audio News.

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