St. Petersburg Amateur Radio Club

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Random Lessons from 30+ Years of Field Days

by: Tom Schaefer, NY4I

First, these are my own opinions, but I thought the club might enjoy some things I have picked up over the years. I have seen all of these things actually happen.

  1. Going to Field Day is the best ham radio best decision you will ever make!
  2. This one is only half-joking…The most dangerous place to be is between the Field Day site and the parking lot at 1759z on Sunday afternoon. Teardown starts at 1800z so it is the really committed (and tired) that hang around to help teardown.
  3. You should rarely get to operate your own station. This is about elmering. The best Field Days are when you have new people that you help operate your radio or an adjacent station.
  4. FD is a collective event. It is not 3 station members that bring their radios, man them around the clock and don’t let anyone else operate.
  5. If you are afraid someone might break your radio, leave it at home. Field Day is a place the new people that may not be experienced on HF get to press the buttons and twiddle the dials on different radios. Your Icom 7851 does not belong at Field Day. Your radio will get dusty, there will be BBQ sauce on the display and it may need some cleaning when you are done. This is Field Day after all and things happen. Leave your prized possessions at home and bring your backup rig—but at least the one with good filters.
  6. “Take my ball and go home” has no place at Field Day. If you lend your radio, antenna, generator, etc, it’s in it for the duration. If you get mad, go home and come back at 1830z on Sunday to get your stuff.
  7. Someone will transmit on the same band on which another radio is receiving. It will happen. There are ways to prevent this (such as assigning radios to bands) but refer back to the item that all radios are shared resources used by whomever happens to be operating 20m at the time. Your job is to train them to operate and hand them the mic. Hang around to help answer questions but let them drive.
  8. If you don’t plan out your antenna layout, the 20m CW station antenna will be too close to the 20m SSB station antenna. Interference is no fun but solving it is part of Field Day.
  9. Mosquitoes suck!
  10. Cigar smoke chases away mosquitoes. Find someone in the club that likes a good Fuente and sit by them. Just no Swisher Sweets—they stink.
  11. It will rain. Plan accordingly.
  12. If you do not reserve a year in advance, one of your kids will have the nerve to pick the fourth Saturday in June for a wedding.
  13. You will learn things about what you can do under less than ideal circumstances. FD brings out the MacGyver in every ham. Solve some issue with the coax. Make a new coax choke when the balun fails. Twist wires together when the connectors come off the power supply wire.
  14. Field Day is not a clean room. Perfect is the enemy of Field Day. Perfectionism has no place at FD. Save perfect for your shack at home. Yes, 100 feet of LMR400 technically has less loss than 100 feet of RG-8X, but at Field Day, we just don’t care. 89 watts out of 100 is better than having to drive home for the roll of LMR400 to put 93 watts to the antenna.
  15. If you have booze, someone will get drunk. You have to deal with all its requisite issues.
  16. Sitting on a run frequency calling CQ and working stations for an hour straight is just magic. You will never have an operating experience like running from a well-equipped FD station (meaning a good antenna).
  17. The newspaper or TV station reporter you invited will arrive at Sunday morning right in the middle of your aforementioned 180 QSOs/hour run.
  18. Everyone at the site should know to whom to refer the reporters when they arrive. Coherence and CW signals make good B-roll.
  19. The bonus points will only materialize if you designate someone as the Bonus Point captain. Their job is to make sure someone gets all the bonus points.
    • Did the satellite station make a contact AND give you the log?
    • Did someone copy the W1AW bulletin? Exactly who is doing it and do they know to bring you the text?
    • Does a specific person have the solar charged battery to make the alternate power contacts?
    • Is there a sign-up book?
    • Does everyone know they should direct new people to the check-in table?
  20. FM Transponders for the satellite contact are useless. You will not get into the repeater. Use FO29 or another linear satellite with SSB or CW.
  21. The more complicated the satellite antenna system, the less likely you will make a contact. The Az/El rotator with the dual beams on an H-Frame is cool, but an Arrow antenna or eggbeaters will do just fine.
  22. In Florida–and the rest of the South–it will be unbearably warm and muggy. At 8000 feet in the mountains of Utah, you will need a coat and gloves as it will be freezing at night—yes, after attending Florida Field Days for years, I laughed when they told me to bring a coat at my first Utah ARC Field Day in in the mountains above Payson, Utah.
  23. You are going to have to talk to strangers. Field Day is about emergency preparedness (and contesting) but it is mostly a very public display of amateur radio. If you see someone new, get up and talk to them. Invite them to the check-in table; ask if they are a ham; do they want to operate? If they are new, give them a brochure for the club.  If you are not all that outgoing, make sure there is always someone that can answer questions. Be inviting and open to new people. Field Day is not the time for cliques.
  24. The generator will run out of gas at the worst possible time.
  25. The camaraderie you will experience is unique to Field Day. Field Day is a way for us to work together for a common goal. We all share a love of radio. Field Day allows us to hone our own skills, help others better their skills and test our endurance under less than ideal conditions. We all love to talk about the emergency aspects of ham radio when we need it for things like the Amateur Radio Parity Act, but you cannot say you are an emergency communicator if you cannot pull off Field Day. Field Day will test you, it will make you sweat but it will give you much in return.
  26. Going to Field Day is the best ham radio best decision you will ever make!


Join Us to Create a Pile Up

This month, join the contesters at SPARC Contest station W4TA as they use the special 1×1 call sign W4S in the Florida QSO Party. The object of the Florida QSO Party is for everyone to work Florida (67 counties) and Florida to work everyone.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the FQP. In celebration, twenty Florida stations have been given special 1×1 calls such that when the proper suffixes are combined together spell out FLORIDA SUN (e.g. SUN = W4S & K4U & W4N). Working the right combination of these stations makes you eligible for the FQP Spelling Bee Award.

SPARC will be operating as W4S for 10 hours (April 29 1600Z (Noon EDT) – 0159Z (9:59 PM EDT) Sunday, April 30 1200Z (8 AM EDT) – 2159Z (5:59 PM EDT) 20 Hours total using both CW and SSB modes. If you would like the opportunity to work the receiving end of a pile up, please sign up with Ron, KP2N.

Additional information on the FQP can be found at:

Operators needed for W4S at the Sun n’ Fun International Fly-In & Expo in Lakeland.

Coverage is needed Tuesday, April 4, through Sunday, April 9, 2017. Operating hours are 0900 – 1700 each day except Sunday, 0900-1500. W4S will be setup at the back West exit of the Museum. General information on the Fly-In, can be found at the Sun n’ Fun web site click HERE.

Volunteer time will be 3 1/2 to 4 hours per day. I need to know the day they wish to and if they would like to work AM or PM hours. Volunteers will get a pass into the Fly-In for each day they operate, a parking pass as well as sandwiches for lunch and drinks.

If you would like to volunteer, please advise me of the day and AM or PM hours you would like to operate. I will do my best to honor your request, depending if someone has already requested that time period. Please contact me ASAP with Call sign, T-Shirt size and emergency contact. I will get all other information off I prefer you contact me via email so I have information in Black & White. You are welcome to call or text me with any questions etc.


Bob Flynn WA4OAB

1281 Forrest Hill Dr.

Clearwater, FL 33756

Phone: 727-458-4420

SPARC Members attend West Central Florida Section TECHCON

Section Manager Darrell KT4WX discussing PICAXE Microcontrollers.

On Saturday, February 25, several members of SPARC made the trip to Sarasota for the 3rd annual WCF section TECHCON. This is a free technical conference put on by the WCF ARRL section technical staff. The location changes to various places around the section to allow the most section members to attend.

This year, there were two conference tracks. One focused on more introductory topics such as station design, antenna building, APRS and programable microcontrollers such as the PICAXE and the Arduino. Another track discussed more technical topics including the Amateur Radio Emergency Digital Network (AREDN) and HamWAN—both which allow creating high-speed data networks similar to WiFi but over greater distances and utilizing amateur radio frequencies (HamWAN was presented by SPARC member Bryan Fields W9CR.


Tom NY4I and Charlie W4OQM – Photo by Ed NZ1Q

One of the benefits of these meetings besides the technical content is the chance to discuss the technical aspects with other hams. During breaks, it is common to hear hams discussing how they are applying the things learned in unique ways that you would not learn just reading the material from a magazine article in QST. For example, the two networking topics might seem competitive but during the Q&A sessions, we discussed how to couple the mesh capabilities of AREDN for emergency data networks wth the long distance networking backbone capabilities of HamWAN can complement each other to serve the widest area.

If you missed it, make plans to attend next year’s TECHCON (around the same time in February tentatively planned for somewhere in Polk county.

NAQP RTTY Effort a Success

The W4TA SPARC contest team set another club record this weekend. Eight operators were able to make 950 QSOs and 147 multipliers in 12 hours on four different bands for a total of 139,650 claimed points. Our previous record was 94,416 claimed points in July of 2012. Quite an improvement.

Special thanks to Ron, KP2N in organizing, preparing for and keeping the effort on track. Additionally for keeping the equipment humming (and making noise), and for his patience in mentoring the less experienced members of the team,

Additional thanks to Tom, NY4I, for getting our logging software up to date, to Joy, XYL of W4CU, for the batch of crockpot meatballs, to Ron, KP2N for the Sloppy Joes, to Roger, K4SHI, for the loan of a 15 meter bandpass filter, and to Tom, W4CU and Rex, KB8ESY for repairing the dipole support pole and getting it back in the air.

Operators participating in this contest were: Rex ,KB8ESY; Paul, KA4IOX; John, KI4UIP; Dave, KR4U; Ron, KP2N; Bob, N2ESP; Dee, N4GD; Scotty, N4RI; Don, VE3XD; Tom, W4CU and Leslie, WA4EEZ. 

This contest will be run again in July. If you would like to participate, contact one of the happy team members above for information.

“RYRYRYRY” (It’s a RTTY thing….)


SPARC Contesters Set New Club Record!!!

Prior to this weekend, the highest score the SPARC Contesters managed in the CQ WPX RTTY contest was a commendable 4th place (U.S) in the Multi operator, Single transmitter category with a 2.3 million-point showing in 2009. That effort used the callsign AK4K with operators KP2N, N1XX, N2ESP, N4RI, VE3XD and W4CU. After this weekend, that club record is no more.


AK4K 2009 WPX RTTY Certificate

AK4K 2009 WPX RTTY Certificate

This weekend’s effort in the CQ WPX RTTY contest exceeded that score by a good margin. Operators for this weekend’s contest were Ron KP2N, Tom W4CU, Scotty N4RI, Dave KR4U, Don VE3XD, Richard, N4BUA, Bob N2ESP, Johnnie W4TSP, Paul KA4IOX, Rex KB8ESY and Tom NY4I. The team kept the station on the air for the full 48 hours of the contest. A feat even more impressive when you consider this was also the weekend of the Orlando hamfest and several of the operators also attended the hamfest on Saturday. By this time you might be wondering, what the heck is the CQ WPX RTTY Contest?

As with most contests, the objective is to contact as many other stations as possible. The mode this weekend was RTTY, which is digital mode that you may hear above the PSK portion of the HF bands. It is distinctive by its characteristic “diddle” sound. As with any digital mode, the main interface is a computer that generates the keying signals for the radio (FSK) and decoding software that processes the received audio into text readable by the operator and the computer logging software. There are many types of contests and each has its own specific objectives. Usually one is interested in points—the number of stations you contact—along with multipliers, which are the unique twist for each contest. For example, in DX contests different countries count as a multiplier. So if I have 10 contacts—each for one point—and work 5 different countries, the score is 50. The scoring for each contact varies—as in this contest contacts with our own continent (North America) are worth one point, but contacts with other countries are worth 3 points. But the basic idea of multiplying QSO points by the number of unique “multipliers” gives the score. That means we always want to add as many multipliers as possible.  Now in many contests, there are far more US stations than DX stations. But in the WPX contest, unique prefixes are the multiplier. That means that if we use a call that has a somewhat rare prefix, we are the multiplier and other stations want to work us. This weekend we used your author’s callsign, NY4I. As NY4 is only a 2×1 prefix (there was no NY4AA or NY4AAA issued), there are only 26 stations in the entire world that have the NY4 prefix. While there are some NY4 stations that are also contesters (NY4A), we did not hear any other stations in this weekend contest. What this means, is that the operators at the club station could act like the DX stations and camp out in one place and call CQ the entire weekend. This is known as “running a frequency”. This is a much more efficient way to make contacts rather than searching for other stations and working them (Search & Pounce). If you have any wondered how it would be to operate on the other side of the pileup where stations call you, a prefix contest is the place to be.

Tom NY4I working another multiplier

Tom NY4I working another multiplier

WriteLog in operation

WriteLog in operation

We had plenty of food available to keep the team running. The famous contest chili was there as well as hot dogs, drinks, doughnuts and the usual assortment of goodies in the station. As fas as the equipment, we used the newly elevated Log Periodic for the 20 and 15 meter bands and a simple dipole for the 80 and 40 meter band. The equipment was an Elecraft K3 and an SPE 1.3k-FA solid-state amplifier running around 1200 watts. The software used was the club standard WriteLog which particularly excels at RTTY contests.

So, how did we do? The total points submitted for this contest were over 3 million! We had 1923 contacts with 675 unique prefixes for a total score of 3,121,200. Not too bad at all! 

This was a great team effort led by Ron KP2N as the organizer. Many thanks to all the operators that came out and supported the effort. We will not know r where we placed in the standings for a few months, but regardless, this was a great testament to what this club station can do especially after the hard work of the club’s tower project. The only thing missing from this weekend was you! We had new operators this weekend as well as old pros. The camaraderie of the operating team makes it a great way to spend some time “playing radio”. As I have said many times, you do not need experience. You just need a desire to learn something new, have fun with some fellow hams, and get on the radio. Our next planned contest is also a RTTY contest but this is a short one. It starts at 1:00 PM on Saturday, February 25. Right after that is a phone contest on March 4rd. This is the ARRL SSB International DX contest. This contest encourages DX stations to work US stations so while not as big a multiplier as NY4 in a prefix contest, it still gives plenty of opportunities to work DX. Watch the new Club Station Activities page for more information. We welcome all to come down and operate or just stop by the watch and learn. I promise you will have a great time no matter what you choose to do.

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