Transcript - Episode 100 - Ned Stearns - AA7A
Eric, 4Z1UG: QSO Today, Episode 100, Ned Stearns AA7A.
My QSO Today is with NED Stearns, AA7A who was recommended to me by one of the listeners. Ned has a great story, and is a ham who likes to try every band and every mode or hobby offers. Now he is into EME or moon bounce, and communicates and operates three of these stations. In addition Ned publishes antenna articles. Be sure that you check out the show notes for the links. AA7A, this is Eric 4Z1UG, are you there?
Ned, AA7A: 4Z1UG, this is AA7A, hi Eric, this is Ned.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah thanks Ned, thanks for joining me on the QSO Today Podcast. Can we start at the very beginning of your ham radio story, when and how did it start for you?
Eric, 4Z1UG: How many of you were there?
Ned, AA7A: Well it was about 5 of us. My older brother, a couple of brothers in a house nearby, and then a fellow about 3 or 4 blocks away, we used to ride our bikes all around the area, all the time together.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Where was that?
Ned, AA7A: It was in Warren, Ohio, the heartbeat of ham radio as far as I'm concerned.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I’ve had some other Ohio guests, and I have heard this about the Ohio, Pennsylvania is very active.
Ned, AA7A: Yeah, I can't explain it, but the industrial growth heavy in the 60s. Lots of families moved there or formed there, and just all kinds of industry in the area, and led to a number of us getting into technical careers.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you remember the name of the Elmer?
Ned, AA7A: Yes, his name was K8GVY. His name is . . . It slips my mind for just a moment, but it will come to me in a second, it's the way it works as you get older. Anyway he was a paraplegic, lived in the basement of his parent’s house. He was very, very gracious, and very . . . He just trained us all everything, and gave us our novice test, and it was just an incredible experience.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You remember your call sign?
Ned, AA7A: Yes, WN8JWY. I remember getting that call sign not from the FCC's ticket, but I got it from my first promotional advertisement. I think I forget who, it was world radio labs or somebody sent me a box, a little plastic stand and my call sign on it, that's how I learned what my call was.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I think when I got my license it was the little print shop.
Ned, AA7A: Yeah, somehow they had databases and marketing exploited the FCC databases even back in the 60s, they didn’t realize that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Or they had somebody inside who was sending them letters or something.
Ned, AA7A: It must be it, but I never did buy anything from World Radio, so it failed apparently.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Okay, so you have this new call sign, and that was the same year in 1963?
Ned, AA7A: That’s correct yeah, August 63.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What did it feel like with 4 of your friends to have your call signs?
Ned, AA7A: It was an interesting experience. My older brother was more the builder. He would read articles in Popular Electronics and would build things. I was more the operator. I would fetch what he built and use it. It was a very, very slow beginning in my ham radio career. The equipment I had was all homemade from spare parts that were cut out of TV sets that were abandoned and thrown out the alleys, and stuff like that.
It was very, very crude radios. My first transmitter was a 2 tube special. I used a 6CLC oscillator in a 6DQ62 for the amplifier; I probably made 5 watts if I was lucky.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That was your first transmitter, and what did you use for receiver?
Ned, AA7A: Well there you go. My older brother, he had a paper route, so he was wealthy, I had nothing. He bought a Knight Kit Span Master, 2 tube regenerative receiver. Somehow I figured out where the 40 meter novice band was, and used that to make all of my contacts as a novice, and they weren't that many.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What did he use?
Ned, AA7A: Well, he would build all kinds of other things, but with his incredible wealth he bought a Lafayette AG80 receiver, which had actually calibration on the bands spread dial, and you’d figure where he was. He built all kinds of different transmitters, but again everything we made, all our transmitters were homemade in most of my youth. It wasn’t until I was in college, I could actually afford something. I would use anything other than a homemade transmitter.
Eric, 4Z1UG: When did you upgrade?
Ned, AA7A: Like I said in college . . . Oh upgrade to the license, okay. After the 1 year novice time, I got my technician again through the testing of my friend John K8GVY, memory finally came through. He gave us the technician test as well, so that kept me going on the radio when I switched over to 2 meters and 6 meters.
Again home brewed 6 meter transmitters. I got to know all of my neighbors. Then a friend of mine loaned me his Twoer which I used on 2 meters for a few contacts in that time-frame that I started out in Warren, Ohio as a technician.
Eric, 4Z1UG: The Twoer was the Benton Harbor lunch box, wasn’t it?
Ned, AA7A: Yes, it was. You could grab a little knob in the front, you could switch back and forth and cover 4 megahertz of spectrum as really … If anybody got down your neighborhood, that's all you heard. Again the regenerative receiver not terribly selective, but it worked.
Eric, 4Z1UG: The friends that you had that got licenses with you, did they also follow you along?
Ned, AA7A: Yes, they did. Again we were too far away from Cleveland, Ohio the closest FCC testing station. I don't recall, but I'm sure the conditional license was in vogue just yet. The only way to go beyond technician was to get your day out with mom to drive you out of Cleveland, and get your license upgraded beyond technicians.
Pretty much all of us were relegated to the VHF spectrum through much of junior high and high school. I did eventually move out of Warren, Ohio in high school to the Cleveland area, and then I managed to get my upgrade from there.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Did you launch any clubs at that time?
Ned, AA7A: Yes, it was Warren Amateur Radio Club. It was a nice group, and it was on the other side of town. I would ride my bicycle at night to the club meetings. I can't do that today, but back in the 60s, a kid on his bike was … They were everywhere and no threats at the time.
I would go to club meetings and get to know some of the folks, went on field day that next summer. Operated the VHF which was my love, got on, and somebody brought some massive 6 meter station with a separate transmitter and receiver, and actually a Yagi antenna, first time in my life, and I just was in heaven operating 6 meters at field day, and back in 1964.
Eric, 4Z1UG: 6 meters was open as the summer was beginning?
Ned, AA7A: Yeah, that’s the magic band. It really … It matched me as a kid, because when I had summers off I had 6 meters, it was a good match.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What was the mode, your operating mode?
Ned, AA7A: Well, back then it was AM, CW was rare if at all. Pretty much everybody had 6 meter stations. As I had gotten a little older, I would collect a few other radios. I would mostly borrow equipment people had on the shelf; I never really could afford my own stuff for quite a while. One of the best radios I ever borrowed for a while was a Clegg Venus which actually had side band, it was an amazing radio, and actually worked a lot of distance stations on 6 meters in the summers in high school.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How did ham radio play a part in the choices that you made for your education and career?
Ned, AA7A: It was very, very vital to me; my father was a mining engineer. My older brother and I both went into electrical engineering, I think just the thing to do, and ham radio just fit me to a tee. My dad did encourage me to get into electronics and engineering. He bought me one of those kits where you can on a board you could put a bunch of fahnestock clips, and using wire built circuits and stuff like that.
I just exercised that to death. It was just a natural for me to get into engineering. Now my friend who was a couple of 3 blocks away, Ron Parise, it was instrumentally his career. He went on to get his PhD in Astronomy, and actually went on 2 missions on a NASA shuttle. It was really an incredible … Like I said before a hot bed of radio. Most of us all it would affect our careers as we got into this hobby. It touched you, and didn’t leave you alone.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you remember Ron’s call sign?
Ned, AA7A: Yeah WA4SIR, it was his call sign while he was in NASA. I actually contacted him one night, in one of his shuttle passes. He had 2 missions. My first time he had a mission I missed him, my station out here in Phoenix Arizona was down. The 2nd time he was on a mission I was ready, and we had an 11 minute QSO as he passed overhead. Pretty much the high point of my ham radio career was catching up with my old friend Ron.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I guess the shuttles did have ham radios in them.
Ned, AA7A: Oh yeah, there was … It was an activity that the hams used to use in what they call the pre sleep or a post sleep time frame. Once they were awake, they’re busy, but there are these little times that they had in their schedule that they could get on the radio. If the operator is operating time matched when there was a pass, you would be in luck. I have worked probably 5 or 6 of the astronauts in both the meter space station as well as the shuttle.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Where did you get your engineering degree?
Ned, AA7A: I went to Purdue University, graduated there in 72, and started my career in the Indiana area. I worked at a company called Magnavox in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Then moved out here to Phoenix Arizona in 74, and I’ve been here ever since. Take wild horses to drag me out of here.
Eric, 4Z1UG: At Magnavox didn’t they make cable TV amplifiers and things like that?
Ned, AA7A: Magnavox was an interesting company. Their primary, most of their income came from actually furniture sales, but they made televisions. It was TV that looked like furniture. It was what it is that separated them from the rest, but I was in the government division where we worked on what I call sonobuoys, which are devices which you drop in the ocean to listen for and track submarines.
I worked on the signal processing of the signals produced by those sonobuoys. Again ham radio operator in engineering and what do I do? I dig for signals and noise, that’s just what I’ve done my whole life.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You went from Magnavox, then to Phoenix Arizona with Motorola?
Ned, AA7A: That’s correct; yeah Motorola was the largest employer in the state. I actually tried to get a job with Motorola right out of college, but they didn’t want anything to do with me. Apparently didn’t muster enough interest after the interview on campus, but I did come down for the interview trip, and before I walked out the door they made me an offer.
I just was in love with Arizona, and not so much in love with Fort Wayne, Indiana. I moved out here in 74, and spent 41 years here working for Motorola, which the division I was in eventually was sold off to General Dynamics, and finished my career in General Dynamics.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, as we started this interview you said its 116 degrees there in Phoenix today.
Ned, AA7A: Oh yeah, it is a real interesting environment, you have to love it. What I’d like to say is that when it gets this hot, we get the place to ourselves, everybody else leaves, and we get to enjoy it to ourselves. The other thing I know from experience now out here is that being a big time antenna builder and user, there is a saying I guess in the North that you don’t lick your flag pole in winter, but down here we don’t lick our flag poles in the summer. You could do antenna work out here, but wear gloves and do it at night.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, and of course I know you have a swimming pool, because I read one of your white papers on the four square. I know that the strategic placement was that it couldn’t go in the pool.
Ned, AA7A: That’s correct; yes that is very, very vital component of your house.
Eric, 4Z1UG: There you go, from the articles that you write, as well as the articles about you, it seems to me that you have done just about every mode in every band, but you are now concentrating on 2 meter EME or moon bounce. Can we go through the evolution of where you went from 6 meter AM to where you are where are now in terms of the operating modes that you have done, and the bands that you have done, because it looks like you’ve done everything.
Ned, AA7A: It does seem that way; yeah I like to tinker with every single mode. As it turns out, again back to my youth when I was just turned into a technician, my friend down the street K8GVY was giving me all kinds of stuff. He would share with me a little periodical that came out from iMac called iMac notes. In one of them was an article about the very first moon bounce contact.
Being a starry eyed 13 year old kid, 14 year old kid that just resonated with me as being “Okay, I want to do something that has never been done before.” Just getting into vogue, is to get into moon bounce. It was this little mantra of mine. Whatever it is I wanted to do, I want to end up doing that. Maybe that is what drove me into getting my degree in communication theory at Purdue is to learn how to optimize communication systems, and learn how to do that thing.
Moon bounce is always going to be my ultimate goal, and it took me 20 years before I did finally make my first EME contact. All the time up to then I was preparing for that. Much of my operating was when I could, being a professional engineer, you work 2 days and you are not at night or you get on the weekends, and generally what you find on weekends are contests or those kind of activities.
I did an awful lot of contesting, mostly CW. Side band was also there for me, but since I worked also at night I would operate, but side band would keep people up. I’d put on the headsets, and did CW mostly just so I could coexist with everybody else in the household. CW is my primary mode, if you were to sample me on the air at any time you would find me on CW 90% of the time.
Up until I’d say the middle 80s, I was primarily on those modes, 90% CW, 10% side band. Then moon bounce started to really become my primary … It’s what made me happy. If you had asked me what it is that I really, really like to do in the 80s and 90s, it was to be at my station, operating moon bounce, and working new stations, just new guys that got on the mode like I did by themselves building their station in a backyard. I would just have great joy in making contact with them, and giving them the joy that I learned and became used to having when I made my early QSOs on the mode.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Now you say that CW is your primary mode, but before you said earlier that you didn’t really work much CW as a novice. Even as a technician that you were primarily focused on AM, 6 meter AM, and 2 meter AM. How did you make that transition from voice to CW later in your ham radio career?
Ned, AA7A: I was probably driven by the equipment. It’s just thinking about this almost like the first time, that is a good question you ask me Eric, I hadn’t thought about this. It’s probably because the equipment I had in high school, the loaner equipment, was like a DX40 or something like that. You can get on the HF bands on phone with 40 watts, or you can get on the HF bands with 40 watts on CW.
It was just so much more effective to get on CW, that’s what I always did. I never had the high end equipment to give me the power or whatever it is to operate side bands. I never really did it that much, so that’s probably what led me to become good at CW, and therefore it gave me pleasure to operate CW.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I'm finding in the course of doing the QSO Today Podcast that many of my guests operate CW. My focus hasn’t been CW, but for some reason many of the Elmer hams that I'm interviewing are CW operators, and surprisingly there is a large number of hams that want to be CW operators these days. Even with the code requirement no longer in force. It is interesting to me when a person goes from voice to CW, how that transition is made.
Ned, AA7A: It’s an interesting topic, everybody has their own movie that they play in their head about how they developed the operating habits they have. I hadn’t really thought about why I am a CW operator. It just came to me naturally, and I was a musical, I was very much into piano and all other musical instruments, and CW became natural to me. It’s almost a second language, in fact some people watch me operate, I will sit and send CW with my right hand, and I surf the net and I'm using a mouse with my left hand at the same time.
It’s just something that you do in background. I didn’t think about sending CW anymore, it just comes out like talking to you. I don’t think about letters and words, I just say what I need to say, and the same thing happens to me on CW. I just throw my hand over towards the key, and out comes what is supposed to come out.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Could you describe what a moon bounce station looks like for people that are not doing a moon bounce that might want to later? What does it take to put together a moon bounce station?
Ned, AA7A: Let me just frame you my position here. I currently have 3 different moon bounce stations. I have the one that I built here in my backyard that has been running for 27 years continuously. I'm building a second one which is much bigger, and will be remotely controlled down in a site 50 miles south of my current house, and then I have a third one which is portable, which goes into a bunch of suitcases which I take on trips to various countries.
I have been to a couple of countries in Africa now, and I'm working on my second country in the Caribbean. They can look like oh its different things, but what I’ve learnt over the years is you can get into moon bouncer really 2 times the stations. One is the one you entered the hobby with, and either caught fire or didn’t. If you did catch fire with what it is you started with, you build the next one which is size 2 what it is you want to do.
Now my very first moon bounce station was my satellite station, the same one I used to contact my friend Ron Parise when he orbited the earth. It was an upscale one, a couple of somewhat long Yagis on 2 meters. While I was up and running I made my first QSO using that station and about a 500 watt amplifier and it worked the biggest station in the world at that time, W5UN who had 64 Yagis. He did the heavy lifting, but W5UN is probably the Elmer for most moon bouncer operators today.
He is probably I would guess 90% of the current moon bounce operators, he was their first contact. He caused many of them to take that second step, which was to take the thing they put together in their first cut, and make it into something that would make them work a lot more stations besides W5UN. That satellite station I started with, it went dormant as I built my first sizable array, the one that I’ve kept running out here for 27 years.
Being the engineer that I was I went to work, interviewed a lot of people in the game and asked them a lot of questions about what works, what doesn’t work, what antennas are, what characteristics and how do I size a station to do what it is I want to do.
It is really important to decide what it is what you want to do when you undertake this sort of thing. What I wanted to do is to be able to work anybody else on moon bounce that put in the same amount of effort that I did. Again the idea of putting something up and work in the guys who have massive 1 acre antennas, that’s okay, that’s fine.
It’s not a real entry into that mode; you really need to be able to work others who have the same passion as you did. I sized my array, so that I could work other stations like me on CW. That’s why I ended up with my 6 Yagi EME antenna design that I put back in 87, I think, I'm guessing here, and it has been up all these years ever since.
Eric, 4Z1UG: We’ll put a link in the show notes page to a picture or something like that. You sent me some pictures, but I also found some pictures on your website as well of that array. That has 6 Yagi antennas and how many elements in each of them?
Ned, AA7A: Each of them has got a 2 element reflector, it’s an unusual thing, but again that was the process of collecting data. I think antenna optimization was still in its infancy in that era. Computer optimization of yagis has gone through a lot of evolutions. It was some work done by German's DL6EWE and DJ9BZV I think is his call. They came up with a couple of designs that were these optimum antennas for a particular sign that I’ve built as exactly.
Each yagi is about 26 feet long, and they're 6 of them and are fed with hard line, scrap 75 ohm cable TV hard line. Again being the frugal man that I am, I try to find stuff wherever I can, and use it for my hobby. It’s not a professional job. If I go pro, I go buy new coax, but this is a hobby. You find stuff and you use it. The same facing with earnest is still sitting there, working 27 years later, it’s cool stuff.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You have this antenna array. What moves the antennas up and down and what not?
Ned, AA7A: It’s kind of a unique concept. My working partner, Larry Molitor, W7IUV, who’s on my list of Elmers. He was my hard point. I tested all of my ideas on him. When he started to laugh, I knew I had to keep working at it. When he didn’t laugh, I knew I had something. This particular array pivots, and elevation with a hinge kind of approach … I have that hinge installed below the center of gravity of the whole array, so that if I were to let go of the array the top of it would fall over backwards and hit the ground.
To stop it from falling I have a cable which I tie to the mast through a pulley that’s on the top of the array over a second pulley which is on top of the mast, and then that capable runs down through the center of the mast down to a motor winch. It came out of a JC Whitney catalog. I paid $99 for that. The most expensive part in the whole array was the boat winch motor I used to do elevation. Since the cable runs through the middle of the mast, I can’t use a rotor, a standard rotor to rotate the antenna and azimuth.
I had my buddy Larry W7UIV help me weld some sprocket gears from a motorcycle system with a large bracket, a welder to replete that was attached to the bottom of the mast. Then the smaller sprocket drives on an axle that I built outside the tower, which I drive with an old TV router, a TV antenna router. Again everything is cheap, but one cool thing about that approach is that all of my drive motors and stuff is on the ground.
If, not just if, when it fails I could walk up to it and service it without putting on a climbing belt. Again the whole idea of this thing was to be maintainable, and as much antennas I could muster in the space I had in my yard for this particular mode. It seemed to have worked out. Like I say it’s lasted 27 years. It didn’t last without maintenance. I'm out there all the time working on stuff, but again it’s all important stuff on the ground. I can walk right up to it and make appeal.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What’s the transceiver that you use then for 2 meters?
Ned, AA7A: The home brewing is all through the station. The actual radio itself has migrated from an FT726R, and then went to Icom 271. Then my current station I'm using is Kenwood TS2000 which I use to drive the amplifier. Now the amplifier is home brewed. It is 8877 tetrode power amp tube designed by W6PO back in the … I'm going to guess, 80s, early 80s.
That amplifier has been running for 27 years, and I don’t think it’s ever going to slow down. It’s just an amazing instrument that is the core of my station here. It’s a special place in my shack. It’s the dominant thing you see when you walk in my station. You look over, it catches the side of your eye, and you look at it, and for the next 30 minutes I'm explaining what it is.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You use the cable TV hard line from the amplifier out to the antenna?
Ned, AA7A: Over the years I’ve migrated up to 7/8 inch heliax for that. I started by splicing a few pieces of cable I could find together, but those usually failed after a while. In fact one of them failed in a spectacular fashion. It was on the air one night and the neighbor knocked on the front door and said, “Is there some reason you have roaming candle on your towel over there?”
Apparently water got into the hard line while it was on the air, and it caught fire and was shooting sparks out a couple of feet. I know that from the burn marks on the side of my towel. I learned from that and decided to go to work and find some good cable. I’ve gone to a 7/8 inch, and that’s what I have been using ever since.
It’s real important when you do moon bounce. You have to count for every 10th of a DB. Again this is back to the communications theory here. In order to have any practical, any concept of hearing a weak signal, you have to focus on every single thing which turns some of your power into heat as opposed to electric fields that propagate to the moon. Cable loss is something that’s very important and it’s one of the things you invest in.
Here is the thing I like to use. The analogy I like to use is that, okay, how much bigger will my antenna have to be to permit me to use a slightly cheaper piece of cable? Say, you’re looking at an option to get cable A or cable B and there is a half a DB of difference. My antenna has to be 15 foot taller and 5 foot wider to be the same if I use my cheap piece of cable.
Then you decide from there you go, that's stupid. Let’s use a slightly more expensive piece of cable, because it’s really, really critical in emission. Several things, our moon bounce are very important. On transmit, it’s getting power to the antenna and on receive, it’s making sure you set your receive performance as soon as you can in your system. It usually amounts to bringing up sound at the antenna.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I see. Those preamps are disabled on transmit.
Ned, AA7A: That’s a good idea. Usually you have some box out there which has a bunch of stuff, relays and your preamp. Mine is right up at the feet point of the antenna. You want to isolate that preamp. It will saturate. There’s nothing to do about it, but you just don’t want to burn up the front end.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You essentially just turn it into a piece of aluminum in transmit mode.
Ned, AA7A: Yeah. You try to. You just turn it into inert stuff. It won't have to produce, it won't get hot. There is a lot of power flying around in the moon bounce station. You have to be very careful where it’s all going and make sure nothing is damaged by it.
Like I said, that Roman candle event pointed out to me the importance of securing the … Even in Arizona where we get what, rain once a year, most things which seal stuff like coax connectors, those route out over the course of time in the summer, and it’s when that one time when it does rain, the weather seal is gone. It works itself into important parts of the connector or the cable if you don’t watch out for that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you pressurize your cable?
Ned, AA7A: It’s not important here in Arizona. When you’re trying to keep water vapor out like in the coastal installations of equipment, yes, the pressurizing cable is important. Here the air is dry most of the time. You don’t really need to do that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: The operating mode that you use for moon bounce?
Ned, AA7A: That started out on CW for the first 12 years or so, all CW, and then Joe Taylor, K1JT changed everything. He started to … Thank goodness for him, and ham radio. He started to come up with other ideas. He started developing these protocols that tried to optimize the characteristics of the propagation to the mode.
It’s one thing to say, “Well I'm going to use CW everywhere.” It works fine on HF, but on VHF or in moon bounce where the signals, the path fades in and out, CW may not be that good, because you may hear a part of the character or part of a call sign and then 10 minutes later you might hear another part. It’s hard to piece it all together.
He came up with a number of protocols over the years that have evolved into the current one which is called JT65, which takes a simple message and codes it into longer messages which have a lot of error correcting, and capability of getting signal processing gain. The way I like to think of it is it made my antenna of 15DB better than it used to be.
It’s just an incredible improvement in the capability of completing moon bounce context. It’s just hard to describe. It’s changed everything. I have migrated almost completely to JT65 on EME. It just makes it almost like getting on 20 meters on CW in the old days calling CQ and see who you work. I do the same thing now on moon bounce. Get on activity weekends, call CQ and just start logging on context.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you do meteor scatter and other kinds of bouncing signals off of like airplanes?
Ned, AA7A: Yeah, and space junk and all kinds of stuff, yeah. This array is very, very flexible. It lets me do all that kind of stuff. One of the problems in the world these days is the increase in noise in the urban areas. All these LED light bulbs and LCD TVs, and everything is producing so much noise.
What I like to do with this array that I’ve build is if I elevate it; start looking at the sky above, the horizon, that noise goes away. The antenna is actually quite good for working meteor scatter , sporadic E, FAI which is the field alignment irregularity which is a really wacky propagation mode that you see during times when there is E-skip as well as E-skip on 2 meters.
Over the past 40 years I’ve worked thousands of stations on all these different modes using other antennas, and then now in the last 27 using this moon bounce array.
Eric, 4Z1UG: JT65 has lowered the bar or the barrier of entry to hence getting into moon bounce.
Ned, AA7A: That’s correct. I have work stations running 7 elements yagis and 50 watts in Europe which is today … Was different today than before. Like I said before most moon balance participants would either get in or not based on their first couple of QSOs where their mode is setup. If they wanted to get in, they would have to expand their station.
Today, the entry level signal … Entry level antenna system has become almost pretty much everybody’s ultimate station. My operating hobby habit these days is to get on the air at times when moon-rise sweeps across Europe. I just work many, many, many new EME operators as the moon enters the beam pattern of their horizon only antenna system. I just work them right and left. I’ve worked over 1250 stations, probably most of them in Europe doing that technique of working the horizon stations.
Eric, 4Z1UG: When you say horizon stations, it means because their antennas are horizontally polarized and pointed at the horizon that . . .
Ned, AA7A: That’s correct. I’d say one in 20 VHF operators have elevation capabilities. Lots and lots of VHF activity in Europe, in getting contest and a weak signal work there. Lots of them will play a little bit of moon bounce towards the guys that play the game like I do, or they get on when the conditions are ripe for them.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You’re the first ham to get 11 band DXCC. What are the 11 bands and how did you do it?
Ned, AA7A: I learned that by Bill Moore NC1L who is a good friend of mine, who is the manager of the awards at ARRL. It was just an anecdotal note he sent me. He says, “Hey. You’re the first I’ve ever seen do this. ” There is no special plaque on the wall for that. I saved that email from Bill as my award. It’s 160 meters, through 10 meters on HF which is 9 bands.
Then I have it also on 6 meters and on 2 meters. Now 6 meters DXCC was probably the hardest of all of them. It took me 34 years to complete 6 meters DXCC out here in Arizona. DXCC is an interesting award system. It makes sense to compare DXCC tallies, the number of countries you worked tallies when you’re on 20 or 14 or 40. Because you can throw a wire out the window anywhere in the world and eventually make contacts with every country in the world. It’s really a worldwide thing.
When you start to look at all the other bands, where you are has an influence on the number of countries that you can work. It gets hard out here in the Western US when you get on 160 or 6 meters. Very, very few have the award, those DXCC on those 2 bands. It’s a difficult thing to do. It’s quite an accomplishment to have achieved that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You’re a member of the Voodoo Contest Group, and a frequent traveler to Mali in West Africa. What is the Voodoo Contest Group, and what is about Mali that makes you a frequent visitor?
Ned, AA7A: Mali is one of the many countries that the Voodoo Group has visited. The evolution of that group, it started with a couple of our most noted operators, in contest operators Vince Thompson, K5VT, again one of my really Elmers in my life. He was a world traveler Dxer of world renown. Mike Fulture KC7V and another fellow were operating at a station during the CQ Worldwide CW contest in the Caribbean.
They did well, but they came in like 5th or 6th place in the world. They were sitting in a bar which is where you more than likely will find most Voodoo operators, and decided that the problem was not them as operators. It’s where they were operating. They decided that the real game had to move to West Africa. West Africa is where geographically it’s the best place to be, because it’s in tactical, is good location towards Europe and towards North America.
Japan is on the opposite globe. It’s a challenge but your points will be made mostly by working all of the stations in Europe and all of the stations in North America. They moved their act in 94 to West Africa. First year was actually in Ghana in 94. They dragged in a bunch of gear in their suitcases, got on the air. They didn’t come in 6th that year. They came in 3rd or something better.
They decided, that’s the thing to do. In 95 they brought in more gear and more operators. I think they did win in 95, win the contest in the class they were in, and that set the hook. That’s what started this team on this 20 year journey in the CQ worldwide CW contest. That team has become the … Some of the glitz of the whole contest is, where are they this year? What new countries am I going to now work and what new bands as these guys go there?
I was in the early planning stages of that operation in 94, but my personal life didn’t permit me to break away for that time and do that. I never really participated until about 10 years later in 2005 as you’ve seen on the net as I joined a group that was in Mali. To get to Mali, this team would move this operation from country to country throughout West Africa. They went to Togo to Burkina Faso and other countries.
Year after year they would move what we call this mountain of equipment from country to country and operate in those countries in subsequent years in the contest. Half the job was to move the gear to where you’re going next as part of a trip to wherever you were. You would operate the contest where you were, then tear everything down and pack it up and then move it to the next spot and go home.
Then the next year you would fly into the next spot, set up the gear, and operate there may be a second year. Then after that second year you would pack it up and move it to the next place. In 2005 when I joined the group, it was … The equipment had been staged in Burkina Faso. We flew into Mali, got on a bus, drove to Burkina Faso, threw all our stuff in the bus and drove back to Mali and operated that year, stored it after the contest, and came back and operated it again the next year.
That next year was the first time I was in a contest that I won in my entire career. I’d been to lots and lots and lots of contests and I lost every single one of them, but that year I won. It was a big experience for me to actually be on a winning team. This group then went on to Guinea, and 2 years to follow that and then on to Sierra Leona for the 2 years following that, and then in to Liberia the 2 years following that. For 10 years I operated in CQ Worldwide Contest in 5 countries in West Africa.
In some of them my operator actually did pull some moon bounce activity. We added to the pile, I hauled in some antennas and trained one of our operators to become a moon bounce operator and we set the world on fire. I think we were the 1st to actually operate a portable moon bounce expedition ever I think. It changed the game, now there are lots of them that do that, but it was fun thing to do.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How friendly is West Africa to American hams.
Ned, AA7A: It’s great; it is . . . Some of these countries have been strife with civil unrest over the years. When we were visiting Sierra Leon everybody we talk to would give us stories about how they survived the civil unrest and it’s a sad tale but it . . . I do believe they are all willing to join the rest of the world.
They are working on their economy and it’s a hard thing to catch up to the west. Pretty much every single of their countries have been ripped in pillaged for their natural resources for ever and every time some government tries to right their situation … It’s so easy for greed to step in and cause all kinds of other issues. It’s going to take time, and I know … It’s one of those situations what is it that you can do and it’s a hard thing to do.
We have many friends now in Liberia our last stay, that we tried something different. When we got to Liberia, we actually start signal, let’s see if we can help. We’ve adopted essentially adopted a number of hams in Liberia and we’ve provided them equipment but we’re also helping them in their life. We’re trying to help them build their houses and educate their children and get jobs and keep jobs.
They all want to migrate to the US and get a job as a cab driver, somewhere they can make real money, but the problem will never be fixed when that happens. You’d love to hand them money but that goes away in an instant. What you have to do is to help them change their world, and that’s something we are doing now with a number of folks in Liberia. It’s a very heartwarming experience as you see them grow.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Does the Voodoo contest group have a way for other people to help on the outside?
Ned, AA7A: It’s a challenge. I think you have to really decide that it’s more than going there and playing a radio and going home, you got to . . . Handing out money it might be easy but it doesn’t last more than a second. You have to somehow figure a way to help them change their lives, and the first thing is to be there consistently to help them when they need help in any capacity.
We have been working again in Liberia with setting up a pipeline through a number of different organizations to get material that they need. Train like for example; we got financial support from the Yasme Group to help us with training materials, technical training materials and ham radio training materials. We’re working with a college called BWI, I can’t remember what that stands for, but I think it’s something Washington Institute and we’re having special classes in training for young Liberians to learn electronics engineering in ham radio.
Last I saw we had 40 successful ham radio tickets issued form the last training class. A number of us on the Voodoo group have been instrumental in getting the funding, buying the material getting it into the pipeline into the country to see if we can just help as best we can. I would recommend others to explore those ideas if they have the opportunity to get to know some people and other parts of the world that maybe aren’t as blessed as we are here in the West with what we have today.
Eric, 4Z1UG: From what I can tell you’ve been at least 16 expeditions. What expedition was the most exotic?
Ned, AA7A: Well, it has to be what I just the most recent one through the South Sandwich and South Georgia Islands. Although it’s a rival, my previous strange one which is the one through Kingman Reef back in 2000. They are both different in their scope and the Kingman Reef in 2000 for me was the first really unusual expedition because you get on a boat and you sail away from a small Island to an outcropping of rock in the middle of nowhere. You live there for a couple of weeks and played radio and then went home.
Very stressful physically, very hot, you got to bring all your bandages with you in case you have any accidents. Most important person in our team was the doctor, fortunately nobody got injured, but it’s hanging out there. Rivaling that today is the expedition we just got through in January and February which were these trips down to the South Sandwich and South Georgia Islands. There were different, just due to the magnitude of the operation we pull off. We had 13 operators; we had a very large radio station we set up.
We had very nasty weather and the sailing was horrible, and there was a lot of it. We were at sea 16 days and not a single one of them was pleasurable. It was physically a hard trip, and it took me about a month to recover from that. I give talks on that trip a lot and when I roll some of the movie clips that I took, people get sick in the audience, when they see the seas and I’m looking like, “We’re in a harbor.”
I was too sick to take videos on the really hard stuff, but that one was probably one of … Probably never recreate in my life but it’s also the most … Has the most reward because it was so hard and we did so well. It gives me a very good feeling to have been a part of that team.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What do you think the biggest reward is from doing the expeditions?
Ned, AA7A: Well, that’s a good question. It’s you have lots of different … first off, you spend a lot of money, you spend a lot of time and it’s hard on your body and hard on your . . . It’s a stress to your family situation, all those things are why you don’t go, but on the list of things which are cool when you do go is that you make a lot of people really excited about the same hobby you are excited about.
I get emails from people I’ve never heard of … I don’t run this expedition, I’m just on the list of operators but they go on the list and just see me they drop me a note. They just said, “You made my hobby fun for 2 months.” They were glued to the radio, and when they worked us on some band and interestingly they jumped out of their chair did the DXCC dance and it was … Handing out that much joy is what really makes me happy.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That sounds great. I found a presentation that you made online where you were analyzing receive antennas for contesting and overlaid different antennas on your city lot in Phoenix. Can you talk about that project and how it begun and then how it evolved?
Ned, AA7A: Yeah, that’s a good one. One of my passions in addition to moon bounce at the other end of the spectrum in the low frequency domain, 160, and 80 meters are my favorite HF bands. Anybody can throw up an antenna in the backyard and start working things and after a while you run out of things to work and you go, “Why is it that some other guy down the street is working something I can’t even hear?”
That’s what started my journey and being the engineer, the hopeless engineer that I am, I had to figure out why, and that’s where I started that. I stared finding that the reason I couldn’t hear was because there was something else on the frequency other than the signals I was looking for. Something else that was nearby emitting energy in the spectrum and I couldn’t hear what I was after because it was being masked by this noise.
When I would go internet searches about receiving antennas, what I learnt very quickly is that these wizards of receiving antennas live out in the middle of nowhere and don’t have my particular problem. They want to put up the antennas that give them an advantage to collect little bits and pieces of some weak signal, have them all pile up in some coherent fashion and create a signal that you can actually copy using long beverages or big arrays and stuff like that.
My problem was that there was this TV set behind me spewing out stuff that I . . . That was masking the guy and I needed to get rid of that stuff more than try to put up an antenna with a super high sharp pattern of some sort. I needed a different antenna than what was on the net. That’s what started me on my little adventure. I started to play around with antenna patterns doing some . . . Using modeling tools which are affordable and I came up with a pretty cool idea that was different.
The reason it was different is because I solved the same problem in my work as an engineer working on intelligence systems for the US army. I worked on DF direction finding arrays in one of my many things I did in my work. I learnt a number of things about arrays that were not really widely published as I would experiment with things out on test ranges and I couldn’t publish them because they were either in classified systems or it wasn’t my data. I was not allowed to share with others, but I was certain I was allowed to do anything I wanted at home and publish that.
I came up with a cool idea to make an antenna that would fit in my backyard wherever I needed it to fit in my backyard and it had a pattern where I could null out my neighbor’s TV set quite well and gave me back the band that my neighbor down the street would have with his antenna. I could finally her and start working another layer of stations using some of the things I concocted in my backyard.
I put together this package and I gave it a very large convention out here in the west, the Visalia International DX convention and it was a hit. Many people walk up to me and say that’s exactly what they needed. It’s a fine job, this has been read by a couple of antenna companies, and I’m now currently consulting with at least one of them. Maybe 2 on some ideas about how to design antennas that work better as both transmit and receive antennas for the lower frequencies.
Eric, 4Z1UG: This antenna you are talking about is the 4 Square antenna that you’ve highly modified?
Ned, AA7A: Yes it is a 4 square, it involves 4 antenna elements, but if you were to say it is a 4 square people have in their mind what they see when they surf their net on that. Mine is not like that at all, it’s a set of 4 dipoles which is good, because you don’t require a radio field below the elements. You can fit this antenna in the corner of your yard and it doesn’t take up a lot of space.
That’s what’s really cool about it, plus I don’t need it to be guide, its short enough that it doesn’t require guying. It’s a very low impact antenna and the performance is unbelievable. I've been in the game long time and I just titter when I sit there and spin the antenna around listening at signals and just realizing I’ve got something that’s got the pattern of a really great tri bander sitting here on 80 meters. It’s really neat.
Eric, 4Z1UG: When you say you are spinning the antenna around you are causally changing the phasing of the 4 antennas . . .
Ned, AA7A: That’s correct, you just grab the knob on a rotor switch, and you spin it around and select phasing figuration ABCD. Currently, I only have 6 directions I’m working on a new one, excuse me 4 directions. I’m working on a new version that has 6 directions. There are … You get the more and more exotic ones you can start making it with 8 and 16 but my yard is not big enough for that, but the receive antennas are going to evolve.
In fact I have this other idea is that it’s probably outside the scope of our talk today but I would like to talk to the world about an idea of not having separate receive and transmit. I think just have antennas and change your radio to be either fitted in a way that makes it right for transmitting and fitted differently if you have to, at a different way when you are on receive and with this software divine radios.
That’s something that’s easier to do, just currently not done. As one of the tasks on my consulting work is to come up with some new concepts for making antennas and radios more integrated and part of a larger system that will make them more flexible and make improvements on HF stations.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I was once told by an early Elmer that the way to eat and elephant is one bite at a time. How do you eat your elephant, in other words what is your process to accomplish so much?
Ned, AA7A: That’s a very good question. I like to tackle … It’s like your little story mine is that the only way to do lots of things at once is to do them one at a time. I think time management practices are important even in your personal life. It's ineffective to have lots of things going on at the same time. I like to start a task, finish a task put it aside start the next one finish it, put it aside and just work on the pace which I do things.
I no longer work, I retired last October, but I'm busier than ever, because I have lots and lots of things I have always wanted to do. My list of other things I want to add to my future is growing every day. I undertake little tasks. I'm preparing right now for this portable EME operation in about 3 weeks’ time. I go to Jamaica and setup a portable moon bounce station.
I needed from last years’ experience when I did the same thing in the Bahamas I had 4 problems. Over the course of the past year in some little weekend or some little thing I would fix each and every one of them as I'm preparing for this event this year. That way it's not a panic just before I leave to get them all done. Over the course of time, I scheduled each of those little things I wanted to do, got them done.
Now here it's 3 weeks before this trip I'm working about how to park the cases, really simple stuff. The technical parts are solved and tested and all that performing. Here we are in Arizona, middle of summer, what I’m working on? I'm working on the fall antenna projects okay? I'm getting ready the low frequency season coming up.
Work ahead don't be sitting out there in the middle of winter trying to make or receive antenna for low frequency, it's too late. Season will be over before you know it and you'll wish you had it before it started. Always be looking ahead of what you need and figure out how to schedule things in and get them done when you need them.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You actually scheduled time on your calendar to do the things you need to do?
Ned, AA7A: I really do, I have this basic plan every year. I feel like a gypsy, I just rove around the spectrum. Now I better have everything need on for 6 meter spread of key season it's on us, upon us now. Now is not a good week to be putting up a 6 week meter antenna because while you are up here on the tower the band is open and you missed it. Always be trying to be ahead of it.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What advice would you give to newer returning hams to the hobby?
Ned, AA7A: Okay this is. . . That's a good topic. Years ago I tried something which is weird for me. I tried to get into the ARRL board of directors to try to see if I could take a shot at what I thought was needed in ham radio. What I thought was needed; still do is keeping the hobby relevant. There are lots of hobbies but ham radio is a technical hobby.
I think it will survive if it stays current. I think keeping … Having the hobby only promote contesting or CW or whatever it is fine but eventually it will fail to be relevant. I think that's a very important aspect of the hobby that is not . . . It's in the minds of some at ARRL, but I found after spending a year on the board of directors as a vice director.
I wasn’t actually on the board of directors, but I attended meetings and we tried to do arm twisting in the breaks. Is that it’s a hard place to cause change. After couple of years on the board I decided on a new vector which was let me do what I can in my neighborhood. I have started doing talks, doing papers, posting stuff on my web you've seen the stuff. As my new process is to try to one at a time or a club at a time is to introduce a topic and maybe a philosophy about how to keep the hobby relevant.
Moon bounce; let me take that as an example. Started at CW, CW for a long time Joe Taylor revolutionized it. If you were to ask me today what should someone do to get into it I would say, “Talk to those who are on JT65.” You'll get in easily, you'll make lots of contacts and you'll decide whether it's something you want to do. I used to tell them, “Real moon bounce is only done by guys who operate CW. ”
They’re going to find that there aren’t that many left that do that. It's hard much harder and it's not current. It's not . . . Maybe not everybody knows CW it's certainly a weak signal. CW is different than CW here on the HF bands, takes a real skill to develop. It’s going to be much harder. I also think that the newer digital modes are more in line with what all other things are in the world today.
You are talking about apps, you are talking about network connectivity, you are talking about … You are talking in lingo of the current day here. When I was on my venture back to ARRL I tried to say, “Hey ham radio currently my view is perceived as the link from ship to shore. From this rock up cropping over here to this rock up cropping over here. ”
How that translates to today people don’t care how a message got from you to me. They don’t care that, “Oh by the way there was this wireless link that went between these 2 towers, the rest was on cable.” Information is important to be moved not moved just by wireless. I tried to express them they say, “The hobby might be better if somehow we expand the view a little bit.”
To say, “Hey it's about promoting their movement of information as opposed to promoting of the creation and the detection of RF signals, which is what it currently seems to be.” If you stick with that view … Let me just, here is an example here, there’s a bunch of hams and there’re a bunch of integration information technology people, 2 groups. You send those 2 groups to an emergency communication system all right? You got the hams who are sitting there going, “Where do I fit? I got wireless gear here and the emergency coordinator has to figure out well how I do use you I don’t know how. ”
A, I can't send most of my information through your nets? B, I don’t know where wired and wireless connections points are I don't know how to use you. It's all about information technology people are going to say, “Okay there are all kinds of different ways information is moved. Let me just use what I can and let me solve the problem. ” Ham radio it’s in danger of being tied to just a part of a bigger concern which is in my mind important today is about information movement and not so much in the joy and success of working the radios.
Eric, 4Z1UG: In other words, what you are saying is maybe an EM-COM situation. I have a spreadsheet of supplies that needs to move from one place to the other. I don't really care how it's done and maybe as a ham we should be thinking about how to move a spreadsheet from one place to another through our mechanisms whatever those mechanisms are.
Ned, AA7A: Here is another take. The Hams have to learn how information is moved and be ready to offer the wireless solution when that's the only one that’s there. The IT people will be lost all right? I think that’s where hams are very critical, is that they got a tool on their belt that no one else has.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Expertise on how to make that tool work in a poor situation.
Ned, AA7A: That’s where hams fit but they got to understand how it all works.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah I think so. Well Ned with that I'm going to wish you 73 and thank you so much for coming on the QSO Today Podcast.
Ned, AA7A: No, it's my pleasure; you really gave me a chance to talk about some things in a way I hadn’t thought about before so I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Eric, 4Z1UG: It was my pleasure 73.
Ned, AA7A: Okay 73.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That concludes this episode of QSO Today. I hope that you enjoyed this QSO with Ned. Please be sure to check out the show notes that include links and information about the topics that we've discussed. Go to www.qsotoday.com, and put an AA7A in the search box at the top of the page.
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