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Ham Radio Keeps Funds Flowing

Dave Schneider, WDØENR

D-STAR brings a shine to school fundraiser.

How would a ham radio enthusiast combine his hobby with his passion for volunteering at his local schools’ music programs? For Scott Augsburger, WRØU, of Mt Pleasant, Iowa, D-STAR was the link to combine those two interests.

Scott and his wife, Lisa, have always been very involved with their two daughters’ school activities, especially attending their band concerts. The couple took it a step further than most parents, supporting the behind the scenes activity of the school’s music programs. Whether it is helping with marching band uniforms, offering technical help for concerts and shows or as trip chaperones, Scott and Lisa were always happy to lend their support.

As with any school music program, parents are always involved in fund-raising activities and Scott found himself right in the middle of the Mt Pleasant Music Boosters, a dedicated group of volunteers supporting the K-12 music students.

Scott has always provided technical support for various aspects of the modern day music programs, especially high school show choir and marching band. Along with his friend and fellow music booster Dave Schneider, WDØENR, and Dave’s wife Julie, KAØUCN, he has used his technical expertise to help many of the Booster’s efforts. In the past, Scott has provided technical support for stage lighting and also helped with electronic instruments and wireless microphones for both indoor and outdoor events. Therefore, when a big fund-raising event needed an efficient communications system, everyone turned to Scott.

Fast-lane Fund-raising

This yearly fundraiser involves students selling fruit and other food items. When distributing the orders, parents and students in about 270 vehicles pull in to a local warehouse over a 3 hour period to pick up their packages. Information on who has arrived is relayed to those inside the building so that their order, comprising multiple food products, can be quickly filled and delivered to the waiting vehicle.

It seems simple at first glance. Just have someone outside with a two-way radio relaying the arriving students name so that volunteers inside can begin processing the order. Actually, for a number of years, that is exactly how it worked, but it did not work very efficiently. Volunteers used Family Radio Service (FRS) radios operating in the 462-467 MHz range. Radios operating in that band are susceptible to user interference and their low output power was just barely enough to penetrate the metal clad warehouse building. Students’ names often had to be repeated several times to be understood. “Was that Hamm or Lamm,” a frustrated parent volunteer would respond when they did not quite catch the name. Adding to the woes would be wind noise from the outside radio.

The workers inside needed to know the student’s name and a vehicle description. That information is written on a dry-erase board so that volunteers delivering the finished order can be united with the correct vehicle.

Things Go Better with Packet

When Scott got involved in the event, he quickly saw an opportunity to use Amateur Radio to improve the information flow. Since other hams were involved with the activity anyway, it just made sense to use ham radio.

For a couple of years, Scott and Dave used packet radio, realizing that it was much easier for volunteers to read the information off a computer screen rather than hearing it over the radio. In addition, a short history of the previous few incoming names is available for a time on the screen for reference.

A Star Is Born

In 2011, Scott decided to try something new. He invested in a couple of new radios — an ICOM IC-2200H with the UT-118 D-STAR module and an ID-880H. On some laptop computers he installed the D-STAR Chat application for Windows.

To insure solid reception, the indoor station was connected to Scott’s homebrew 2 meter halo set for vertical polarization and mounted outdoors on a 30 foot “extend stick” secured to his pickup truck’s bumper. The fiberglass “extend stick” is what electric utility workers commonly use. Scott has found it extremely useful for a quick and safe way to raise an antenna during a portable operation.

For the outdoor station, Scott borrowed an enclosed truck from a local auctioneer to protect the operator from the weather. The antenna utilized was a Hustler G3-144 vertical ground plane mounted on a TS-70B speaker stand. Scott has found this stand, normally used to support portable speakers, to be perfect for antennas because of its durability and portability. The tripod stand is easy to fold up and store in a car’s trunk.

In both setups, he used Belden 9913 coax and kept the antennas far enough away to avoid RF problems with the computers. The system operating frequency was 145.07 MHz.

The system Scott used for the event worked flawlessly. It was especially useful that with this D-STAR digital system both data and voice could be used with the same radios on the same frequency. The Music Boosters were impressed with the efficiency of the ham system. “It was so handy to just read the names and vehicle description off the computer screen and not have to listen intently to that information being relayed by voice,” a parent volunteer said. “Before, if I didn’t hear it clearly, I’d have to have them repeat it. Now I could just look at the screen and see the last several names.”

Not only did Scott and Dave have fun setting up and running this equipment, but they impressed their fellow Boosters with how effective ham radio could be.

Dave Schneider, WDØENR, has been licensed since 1975 making the final upgrade to Extra class in 1985. He is currently retired having spent 33 years working for Motorola in Iowa. Dave is a member of the Mt Pleasant Amateur Radio Club where he served as secretary for 19 years and newsletter editor for 20. Dave’s spouse, Julie, is also licensed as KAØUCN. He can be reached at 1683 Old Highway 34, Mt Pleasant, Iowa 52641-8380.


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